Former health secretary Ken Clarke admitted ‘strong possibility’ of blood products infected with AIDS

Former health secretary Ken Clarke has admitted his department believed there was a "strong possibility" blood had been infected with AIDS, despite telling the public there was "no conclusive proof".

The former health secretary’s use of the second phrase to the press and parliament in 1983 was scrutinised at the Infected Blood Inquiry on Wednesday. 

Lead counsel Jenni Richards QC asked Lord Clarke, who is giving evidence this week, whether he was being "straightforward and candid with the public" as he was "not acknowledging the likely causal connection between AIDS and blood products".

Lord Clarke responded: "The line did not say ‘blood products don’t cause AIDS’. That would be quite wrong and inaccurate and untrue. In my opinion, if you give the ordinary meaning of the words ‘there’s no conclusive proof’ and if you look at the sentence as rounded, it’s quite clear we’re saying there’s a strong possibility at least that it causes AIDS, but there is at the moment no conclusive proof.

"I used it but it’s not my medical opinion. I’m using the English language. That is clearly what the department was saying. I’m convinced that was the collective view of the scientific experts in the department and those they consulted outside."

When asked again by Ms Richards if he was not being "candid" with the public, he said: "Most definitely not. It’s an absurd tabloid newspaper spin you’re putting on it."

Lord Clarke was health minister from 1982 to 1985, and subsequently health secretary from 1988 to 1990.

The inquiry heard that the "no conclusive" phrase was originally used in a press release in September 1983 announcing a new leaflet which was created to "discourage" those who were highly at risk of contracting AIDS not to donate blood.

The quote from Lord Clarke, used in the press release, said: "It has been suggested that AIDS may be transmitted in blood or blood products, there is no conclusive proof that this is so. Nevertheless, I can well appreciate the concern that this suggestion may cause.

"We must continue to minimise any possible risk of transmission of the disease by blood donation but it is not possible to test a person’s blood for the presence of AIDS."

The release went on to urge people who were at risk of Aids not to donate blood.

The phrase was repeated again by Lord Clarke in a written response during Parliament in November 1983.

"It wasn’t drafted by a minister. I can’t remember who did it but obviously somebody, somewhere, decided that that was the most accurate line to take," Lord Clarke told the inquiry.

"It was repeatedly used by every minister. We kept repeating that because that was a scientific advice we had until it was perfectly clear to the medics that there was in fact sufficient proof [that Aids was transmitted]… we weren’t playing down that possibility.

"It seems to me…it’s a perfectly accurate description of where medical opinion was at that time. That’s presumably why the haemophilia doctors, the real experts, were still using Factor VIII."

The inquiry is being held to investigate the scandal which emerged in the 1980s and saw thousands diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and/or hepatitis after receiving blood product treatments for haemophilia.

Around 3,000 people have died as a result of receiving infected blood products during treatment.

The Infected Blood Inquiry, an independent investigation into those who were affected by the transfusions, is hearing evidence from Lord Clarke for three days this week.

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