Norman Fowler: contaminated blood compensation was doomed to failure

A push in the 1980s for compensation for haemophiliacs infected with Aids through contaminated blood was “doomed to failure” because of opposition from Margaret Thatcher and the Treasury, a former health secretary has said.

Norman Fowler, who was secretary state for health and social security between 1981 and 1987, told the infected blood inquiry that ministers were worried if they paid compensation to haemophiliacs it might set a precedent.

There were 1,240 British haemophilia patients, most of whom have since died, among the victims of the contaminated blood scandal, which is the subject of the public inquiry. They were infected through an untreated blood product known as Factor VIII.

The fight for compensation began during Thatcher’s premiership but, on Wednesday, Fowler told the inquiry: “It was doomed to failure. There was no chance that I was going to get permission to do that, no chance whatsoever. The Treasury was against it, the prime minister would been against it because she would have been told that it would have other effects.

“I can’t think of anyone with the exception of one or two cabinet ministers who might have had some sympathy. It was a hopeless case I’m afraid because they took the view that if agreed to, the floodgates would have been opened.”

The inquiry also heard that Thatcher’s private secretary, Mark Addison, advised in writing that the then prime minister should not attend the 1985 opening of the Blood Products Laboratory at Elstree to treat and screen blood because she “should stay clear of Aids (!) even when it is a question of opening laboratories to help innocent victims”.

Fowler, now 83, said the virus was not a priority for Thatcher and Addison was reflecting her attitude. He also told the inquiry that she vetoed a ministerial statement on the disease.

While Fowler’s “Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign has been credited with saving countless lives, it has also been accused of fostering stigmatisation of people with Aids. He told the inquiry he had considered people who had been infected with HIV as a result of NHS treatment prior to the campaign but the intention was to get people to take notice.

He admitted the government was slow in changing its stance that there was “no conclusive proof” HIV could be transmitted through blood products, having known by November 1983 that two haemophiliacs – including one who had died – had been diagnosed with Aids.

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