A woman infected by Hepatitis C after a contaminated blood transfusion more than 20 years ago has been given the go-ahead by a High Court judge to launch a landmark legal challenge in the latest stage of her long-running battle for justice.
Sharon Moore was one of more than 4,500 victims affected by the contaminated blood incident in the mid-1980s, described by Professor Lord Winston as the ‘worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS’, but was only informed about the error and her infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) almost eleven years later. The scandal affected some 4,670 people and caused the deaths, of more than 2,000.
Her solicitors Irwin Mitchell have now been given High Court permission for a Judicial Review against the exclusion of Ms Moore from an official compensation scheme, as pressure mounts for fairer treatment for Ms Moore and other victims following the second reading last week of a Private Members Bill in the House of Lords on the issue.
Ms Moore, who was told that she had cleared the virus from her body naturally but also suffers from depression, has also been told that she has an increased risk of developing liver cancer and variant CJD because of the error.
But the 50-year-old former model, from Dunstable in Bedfordshire, has had her claim for compensation rejected on three occasions by the Skipton Fund, which runs the scheme set up by the Government for victims of the infection. 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 of this year 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.
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, whose application for Judicial Review was filed at the Regional Administrative Court in Leeds, said: “I was shocked when I discovered the news of my infection and especially shocked that it happened so long ago and I had been completely unaware of it.
“That was bad enough but 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.”
She 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 HCV history on applications for insurance or on any application for emigration she has been disadvantaged.
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 am determined to carry on fighting for justice.”
Andrew Lockley, Head of Public Law at Irwin Mitchell, said: "This is a very important case for Ms Moore but also 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.
"This is about the simple principle of fair play and of Ms Moore wanting that fairness to be applied to her case, 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 she has been rejected by it on the basis of an assumption that the virus cleared her system in six months when she wasn't even told she had been infected until 11 years after the event. We say that is entirely unfair and unlawful."
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.
The impact of the contamination of blood products in 1970s and 1980s was recently reviewed in an inquiry chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell QC but the response of the Department of Health (May 20th 2009) did not lead to any change in the Skipton Fund criteria.
Opening the second reading debate last week in the House of Lords, former disabled people's minister Lord Morris of Manchester said the aim of his Contaminated Blood (Support for Inflected and Bereaved Persons) Bill was to give "solace and support to arguably the most needful minority in Britain today".