Ex-minister Ken Clarke ‘not responsible’ for blood products in early days of infection scandal, inquiry hears

‘I didn’t call meetings on it. I was never ... directly responsible for blood products,’ says former health secretary

Tom Batchelor
Tuesday 27 July 2021 17:44

Related video: Patient testimonies at the contaminated blood inquiry

The former health minister Ken Clarke has said he was “not responsible” for blood products in the early days of the infected blood scandal, an inquiry heard.

Appearing before the Infected Blood Inquiry on Tuesday to give evidence over three days, Lord Clarke said the controversy surrounding the blood products was something that “hardly ever came across my desk”.

He said at the time he was distracted with policies such as closing “old Victorian asylums” and removing “old geriatric hospitals”.

The infected blood scandal, which emerged in the 1980s, saw thousands diagnosed with HIV/Aids or hepatitis after receiving blood product treatments for haemophilia.

An inquiry seeking answers for those who were affected by the transfusions started hearing evidence in April 2019.

Lord Clarke, who held the position of health minister from 1982 to 1985 and was health secretary from 1988 to 1990, told lead counsel Jenni Richards QC: “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.”

“When I arrived (as health minister), the idea that blood products was 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.”

Ms 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?”

Lord 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 which 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).”

At points, Lord Clarke, 81, appeared to become irritated with the level of detail being questioned by Ms Richards, on one occasion branding them “pointless”.

Chairman Sir Brian Langstaff then intervened to state that it was up for him to “ultimately determine” what questions were relevant.

In 1972, the UK approved a new version of Factor VIII, a blood clotting protein which 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 inquiry continues.

Additional reporting by PA