Ken Clarke says he was not responsible for blood products during scandal

Ken Clarke 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, an inquiry has heard.

Lord Clarke, who was a Conservative health minister from 1982 to 1985, said the emerging controversy surrounding the blood products was something that “hardly ever came across my desk” as he was dealing with policies such as closing “old Victorian asylums” or getting rid of “old geriatric hospitals”.

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/or hepatitis after receiving blood product treatments for haemophilia.

Appearing at the inquiry, he told the 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.”

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. After his junior health role in the early 1980s he was later appointed health secretary from July 1988 to November 1990.

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