An inquiry into claims the government deliberately covered up the accidental infection of thousands of patients receiving NHS blood transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s has begun this morning.
Campaign group Taintedblood alleges in a report released today that the Department of Health (DoH) attempted to "vanish or destroy crucial evidence" relating to the infection of 4,800 haemophiliacs with Hepatitis C and more than 1,200 with the HIV virus.
It also accuses the medical profession of deliberately withholding test status results, leading to further infections of spouses and unborn children, as well as "conspiring to conduct unethical and non-consensual research".
Lord Archer of Sandwell is chairing the independent inquiry which follows 20 years of campaigning for it to be held.
Speaking on the Today programme this morning, he said the inquiry had two purposes.
"First a number of people whose lives were ruined by the infection or who lost close relatives want to know why it happened and how it happened, and that will help them at last to come to terms with it," he said.
"And hopefully too we hope that we may discover something which will help for the future and we can learn some lessons."
Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Willott's early day motion on the issue has attracted 148 signatures over the recess period. She said the revelations were "deeply shocking".
"The evidence suggests that successive governments have been involved a cold-hearted cover-up of how around 6,000 haemophiliacs were infected with either HIV or Hepatitis C from NHS blood products," she said.
"It is high time the government gave the haemophilia community the closure on this harrowing issue that they so badly deserve."
Responding to the claims, a DoH spokesperson said a departmental review had been initiated as part of its "policy of openness".
"We have great sympathy for those who were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV and understand why they want to know how it happened and why it could not have been prevented," the spokesperson said.
"However, the government of the day acted in good faith, relying on the information available at the time," he insisted.
Approximately 800 of the 1,200 infected with HIV have since died while "hundreds more" have died from Hepatitis C, Taintedblood said.
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