Ken Clarke criticised for showing ‘contempt’ at infected blood inquiry

Former health minister appeared irritated at detailed questioning of his role at time of 1980s scandal

Ken Clarke has been criticised by families affected by the infected blood inquiry for displaying “contempt” in his evidence after he showed a reluctance to answer questions.

Lord Clarke, who was a Conservative health minister from 1982 to 1985 and health secretary from 1988 to 1990, appeared to become irritated with the level of detail being examined by the lead counsel, Jenni Richards QC.

At one point, he asked: “Why do we have to go through such meticulous detail through who said what when, when did he change his mind?” He added that it was “interesting” but “pretty pointless”.

Further protestations from Clarke led the chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, to state that it was up to him to “ultimately determine” what questions were relevant. He said: “I think the relevance ultimately, Lord Clarke, is for me to determine. If I think the questions are unhelpful, then I will indicate that.

“But at the moment, it would be helpful to me, I think, and we may get on a little bit more quickly if we just deal with the questions as they come and leave the motive or the purpose of asking the questions to counsel.”

Clarke appeared before the infected blood inquiry to give evidence surrounding the scandal, which emerged in the 1980s and led to thousands of people being diagnosed with HIV/Aids and sometimes hepatitis after receiving blood product treatments for haemophilia.

Earlier he said he was not responsible for blood products during the early days of the infected blood scandal despite being a health minister at the time. He said he was dealing with policies such as closing “old Victorian asylums” or getting rid of “old geriatric hospitals”.

Clarke’s actions have been criticised by Factor 8, a non-profit organisation, which has branded them as “disgraceful”.

Jason Evans, the founder of Factor 8, said: “Those infected and affected have waited a long time for this day, and the utter contempt for the inquiry displayed today by Lord Clarke is appalling.

“Our community has suffered enough, and his disgraceful attitude today has only added to that. What on earth he was thinking I have no idea.”

At the inquiry, Clarke told Richards: “As the tragedy with the haemophiliacs developed, I was aware it was there. From time to time, usually on my own instigation, I got on the edge of it.

“I didn’t call meetings on it. I was never the minister directly responsible for blood products. I was never asked to take a decision on blood products. I never intervened to take a decision on blood products. I did intervene or get involved in discussions a bit when I wanted to be reassured.”

He added: “When I arrived [as a health minister], the idea that blood products were a very big part of the department’s activity is simply not true.

“It was a very specialist, usually quiet, harmless subject and was one of the few areas where we didn’t have controversy and there wasn’t very much for the department to do because the blood transfusion service ran itself.”

Later, Richards asked: “Do you accept that the [health] department and ministers within the department had a responsibility to ensure the treatment being provided through the National Health Service was safe?”

Clarke responded: “Yes, that’s why we have this network of safety of medicines committees, licensing authorities. They have legal power … to make sure you don’t have some eccentric doctor who is prescribing things that are not actually clinically proven or recommended.

“Never does the minister personally start intervening and imposing a personal decision on what treatment the patients [get].”

In 1972, the UK approved a new version of Factor VIII, a blood-clotting protein that helps prevent bleeds from happening, to be used to treat haemophilia patients in Britain.

Blood products later began being imported from overseas after the production of Factor VIII in the UK was considered to be insufficient to meet demand.

By 1983, fears had been raised that the blood products contained hepatitis and HIV/Aids. It was later found that many people with the condition had been given blood products, such as plasma, which were infected with hepatitis and HIV.

The infected blood inquiry, an independent investigation into those who were affected by the transfusions, will be hearing evidence from Clarke for three days this week.

Contributor

Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

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