The Infected Blood Inquiry was established to scrutinise how patients treated by the NHS between 1970 and the early 1990s received infected blood and blood products. At least 2,400 people died after contracting HIV or hepatitis C as a result of the infected blood, and at least 26,800 people became severely ill. This is known as the contaminated blood scandal.
The Inquiry is examining why men, women and children in the UK were given infected blood and/or infected blood products; the impact on their families; how the authorities (including government) responded; the nature of any support provided following infection; questions of consent; and whether there was a cover-up. Since 2018, the inquiry has heard evidence from more than 200 people who received or whose loved ones were affected by contaminated blood products and politicians, leading clinicians, scientists and civil servants. The final report is expected to be published in Autumn 2023.
As the Lead Chaplain at Mildmay Mission Hospital, I work together with a small team of volunteer chaplains. We work in a faith/spiritual capacity with our patients - without wishing - or needing - to know how they contracted HIV. Unless, in a pastoral context, they may wish to share such information with us.
Our Mission Statement from John 10:10 is …’ that they may have life and have it in all its fullness,’ sums up what we are about. To fulfil these criteria, our clinical staff and other therapists request full knowledge of a patient’s medical history to supply the correct support for the individual. However, as chaplains, we are simply there to listen and to be whatever they want or need us to be - a friend, a spiritual adviser, a listening ear…
One HIV chaplain said she felt there was a distinction between people infected through sexual contact or addiction (she said people tend to be part of a close community) and people are perhaps more solitary in dealing with infection owing to contaminated blood products. As I reflected on this, I, too, could only think of one difference in addition: those infected through blood products want to disassociate themselves from the ‘other group’ and ‘proclaim from the rooftops’ that they are not guilty! This statement reflects how those affected through sexual contact or addiction may be regarded by, and possibly judged by, the other group (but not vice versa).
In my experience, when stories are shared, that is, when we are given the root cause in a confidential situation, the stigma, anger, frustration, disbelief, the wanting to keep the information from friends and family, to isolate, to withdraw, require the same pastoral support which ultimately would be as personal to each person or as individual as individuals are!
Sister Bernie Devine
Image credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel