19 May 2024

‘We’re still a long way from justice’, says infected blood scandal victim

Chief Correspondent

On Monday, thousands of victims of the infected blood scandal will get the final report of the inquiry into what happened to them. The government is also expected to approve more than ten billion pounds of compensation this week.

Victims and campaigners were at a rally in Westminster on Sunday afternoon. Among them was Nicola Leahey, who had blood transfusions in the 1980s but didn’t find out she contracted hepatitis C until 2009. We spoke to her about what she’d been through.

Nicola Leahey: I had a blood transfusion in 1975, when I lost a baby. And then in 1981, I had a surgical operation. Unfortunately that went wrong, and I had loads and loads of blood transfusions and I was in hospital for four and a half months. So then when that was over and done with, I kept going to doctors and saying, ‘I’m tired.’ He thought it’s because I’ve got three children under five, so nobody took any notice of me. I actually was struck off the list on one GP because he thought I was a hypochondriac.

[I had] flu-like symptoms, tiredness, different problems. And finally, in 2009, I decided to really go at the GP and say ‘please find out what’s wrong with me.’ I’d taken early retirement and because of the tiredness, [I was] completely lethargic, I wasn’t myself. I didn’t feel I was doing the job that I should be doing. So I took early retirement from the NHS. And then that came back in 2009 that I’ve got hepatitis C and I started the horrific, and I mean horrific, treatment of interferon and ribavirin. That was 2010, with six months of hell. Lost a lot of my hair and body hair and eyelashes and all the rest. And then, I did my first evidence statement in 2019. Met a lovely crowd of people. I realised that I wasn’t on my own. But there’s thousands of us out there now.

Alex Thomson: After all that, what does success look like for you?

Nicola Leahey: I am hoping that we have recognition. We’ll have an apology, and I mean a proper apology. And then the people who have died, I want them to be recognised. The people that have lost children, I want them to be recognised. The people that have lost parents. Everybody should be recognised within their own right.

Alex Thomson: Nicola, when you say recognised, what do you mean by that?

Nicola Leahey: The people who have supposedly had a blood transfusion after the cut-off date in 1991, they’ve not been recognised at all yet by the support schemes, and I want them recognised so that they will be able to have the compensation when finally we hear about that. And it’s not just the money, it’s the actual recognition that we are victims and we have suffered. We have suffered a hell of a lot. We come to these hearings and some of us aren’t here the next time, and we look around and think, well, who’s going to be next? Who’s going to be that missing person or people the next time we are meeting?

Alex Thomson: Half a century, roughly speaking, and still we don’t even have the full truth. It’s an outrage.

Nicola Leahey: And we’ve seen it during the inquiry and the hearings. I’ve been to nearly all of them. We hear of the stories, we hear of the cover-ups, and it makes us more and more determined that we’re going to get the truth out there.

Alex Thomson: And in terms of compensation, I know this is not about the money, it’s about things like truth and justice. But the money does matter, let’s face it. What does proper compensation look like?

Nicola Leahey: It means security. It means to be able to live our lives. I’m in my 70s, and we need to be able to just live the rest of our lives and not be worrying about help that we need in the home, help that the family needs to be able to support us as we get older.

Alex Thomson: So on Monday, recognition, as you’ve put it. The truth, we hope. What is justice, though? It’s not quite the same as the truth, is it?

Nicola Leahey: Oh, it’s not. It’s not. The truth is there in the evidence, but the justice is the fact that people are accountable for what has happened. People are accountable for what we’ve seen in the evidence of the inquiry, that they did know about it.

Alex Thomson: And we’re still a long way from justice, finally, aren’t we?

Nicola Leahey: Yes. Still a long way from that.