Contaminated Blood Victim’s Battle For Justice Reaches High Court

Judicial Review To Be Held Over Case Of Woman Infected Through ‘Worst Ever NHS Treatment Disaster’

22.11.2010

A WOMAN infected by Hepatitis C after a contaminated blood transfusion more than 20 years ago will bring a legal challenge in the High Court this week in the latest stage of her long-running battle for justice.

Lawyers from Irwin Mitchell acting for Sharon Moore – one of more than 4,500 victims affected by the NHS contaminated blood incidents in the mid-1980s – will bring a Judicial Review against a decision that she falls outside the compensation scheme set up by the Department of Health in 2004.Her case could have implications for other victims in a similar legal position, who have also been refused compensation.

Ms Moore, who received the transfusion after collapsing with anaemia, was only informed about the error and her infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) almost eleven years after she and other victims had been caught up in what was later described by Professor Lord Winston as the ‘worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS’. The contamination affected some 4,670 people and has so far caused the deaths of more than 2,000.

The 50-year-old former model, from Dunstable in Bedfordshire, who was subsequently told that she had cleared the virus from her body naturally but also suffers from depression, has been told she has an increased risk of developing liver cancer and variant CJD because of the error.

But despite the shattering news, Ms Moore had her claim for compensation rejected on three occasions by the Skipton Fund – which administers the compensation scheme for victims of the infection on behalf of the Government – on the grounds that she could not prove the virus was in her system for more than six months.

Her third claim was rejected in May 2009 by the Fund’s Appeal Panel, despite new evidence from a leading Hepatitis C expert saying that there was no way she could have known when the virus was ‘spontaneously cleared’ from her body, prompting Ms Moore to launch the legal challenge of both the Appeal Panel decision and of the criteria on which awards are made under the scheme.

Her lawyers will argue that it is unlawful to require Ms Moore to prove that the HCV virus had not cleared within six months, when she could not have carried out medical tests over the eleven years when she was unaware that she had received the contaminated blood.

In a move which could have implications for many other victims turned down on the same grounds, her legal team will also urge the court to quash the Skipton Fund criterion requiring any applicant to prove persistence of infection beyond six months.

Ms Moore, who was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, said: “The last few years have been incredibly difficult for me. The HCV has made me depressed and I need treatment with anti-depressants.

“The truth is that I was the victim of a dreadful error and I have waited a long time for my day in court to try and achieve justice over this.”

She added: “I was shocked when I discovered the news of my infection and especially upset that it happened so long ago and I had been completely unaware of it.

“To be still fighting for justice more than 20 years after the initial error seems to me to be very unfair because my infection was completely outside of my control and I was not even made aware of it until 11 years later.”

Ms Moore also said she had been turned down for a job with the police due to her HCV infection and believes that, because she now has to disclose her medical history on applications for insurance, she has been disadvantaged.

Andrew Lockley, Head of Public Law at Irwin Mitchell, said: "This case is about the simple principle of fair play. Ms Moore understandably feels that she and others in the same position should be entitled to compensation from the State for the State’s mistake in recognition of the problems she has suffered and continues to suffer as a result of being infected with HCV more than 20 years ago.

"The Skipton Fund was set up by the Government to help victims like Ms Moore and yet the criteria for payment make it impossible for her to qualify.

Lockley added: "This is a very important case for Ms Moore but it’s also hugely important for many other innocent victims who have been denied their access to justice over a dreadful error which affected them and their lives but was completely beyond their control.”

Chris James from The Haemophilia Society, which represents 4,670 individuals and bereaved families where contaminated blood products exposed people to Hepatitis C, said the significance of the Judicial Review went well beyond those exposed to Hepatitis C from contaminated blood transfusions. 

“We estimate that around half of these families have received no payment at all under the existing rules of the Skipton Fund. The Judicial Review holds out hope to hundreds, if not thousands, of our members that they may soon be entitled to this basic financial recognition of the infections and the suffering caused,” he said.

Ms Moore’s ill-fated blood transfusion came after she collapsed with severe anaemia caused by ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the intestines, in June 1987 and was rushed to Luton and Dunstable Hospital. It later emerged that the blood unit she received was infected with the Hepatitis C virus.

But it was only in March 1998, almost 11 years after the transfusion, that the National Blood Service wrote to her GP and Ms Moore was given the devastating news that she may have been infected with Hepatitis C. She underwent tests and had to wait for six more weeks until she was told the virus had cleared her system at some point since 1987.

Note to Editors: The Judicial Review in the case of Sharon Moore will be heard in the Administrative Court at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday 23rd and Wednesday 24th November 2010, at 10.30am.