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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “truly sorry” for the horrors of the NHS infected blood scandal as he told the House of Commons he wanted to make sure “nothing like this can ever happen in our country again”.

The apology followed the publication of the final report of the damning public inquiry into the decades-long infected blood scandal, which found that the British state was guilty of a “chilling” and “pervasive” cover-up.

Sir Brian Langstaff, chair of the infected blood inquiry, said on Monday 30,000 men, women and children had been “knowingly exposed to unacceptable risks of infection” through contaminated blood products provided by the NHS between the 1970s and early 1990s

More than 3,000 people have died so far after contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases from the tainted products.

Speaking in a sombre Commons, with some of the victims looking on, Sunak undertook to set up a massive compensation scheme, with estimates it could eventually cost over £10bn.

“Whatever it costs to deliver this scheme, we will pay it,” Sunak said. Full details of the scheme, which will pay out to those “infected and affected” by contaminated blood will be set out on Tuesday.

Sunak acknowledged the British state had been involved over decades in the callous mistreatment of patients and engaged in a cover up. The prime minister said the affair “should shake our nation to its core”.

A poster on the side of a van publicises the infected blood scandal
A poster on the side of a van publicises the scandal in which 30,000 people were knowingly exposed to ‘unacceptable risks of infection’ © Leon Neal/Getty Images

He offered a “wholehearted and unequivocal apology” on behalf of the British state over the “calamity” of the scandal, which wrecked tens of thousands of lives and left victims fighting for decades for justice.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, said all political parties carried the blame. Addressing victims of the scandal, he said: “Collectively we failed to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society. Politics itself failed you.”

Langstaff’s final report of the seven-year inquiry found a “catalogue of failures” that led tens of thousands of NHS patients to receive blood products contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C.

Citing the government’s refusal to agree to a public inquiry until 2017, he also accused healthcare staff, ministers and officials of “a lack of openness, transparency and candour . . . such that the truth has been hidden for decades”.

The NHS and successive governments adopted a culture of defensiveness and oversaw the “deliberate destruction of some documents”, he added.

The inquiry found some patients with bleeding disorders, including children, had been experimented on without their or their parents’ informed consent.

One site for these experiments, the report said, was a Hampshire boarding school for children with disabilities, where pupils “were often regarded as objects for research” and the risks of treatment were “well known” to clinicians.

Langstaff also found that patients tested for HIV and hepatitis C were not told of the results of their tests “for weeks, months or even years”, affecting their ability to manage health conditions.

He said it was not in his remit to suggest civil or criminal proceedings be brought. No one in the UK has ever been prosecuted in relation to the scandal, unlike in countries such as France.

Sunak promised to review recommendations by Langstaff to avoid any repeat of the scandal, widely seen as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

The prime minister said the NHS scandal bore the hallmarks of other major scandals that involved the covering up of evidence and the scapegoating of victims, including the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in 1989.

The state is also facing a big compensation bill to pay sub-postmasters wrongly accused of fraud in the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

Starmer said he supported Sunak’s commitment to provide full compensation to all those infected and affected by the scandal. The cost will nonetheless add to the funding constraints of whichever party forms a government after the election.

Treasury officials said this would not affect the ability of chancellor Jeremy Hunt to cut taxes, possibly in a pre-election Autumn Statement.

The compensation payments will be treated as capital spending, incurred as one-off costs in individual financial years.

They said it is therefore unlikely to have an impact on Hunt’s key fiscal rule, which states that debt must be falling as a share of GDP in the fifth year of the economic forecast, compared with the fourth year.

Earlier this month Hunt told Sky News: “There will be an impact on the public finances but it won’t have any impact on long-term public spending or long-term levels of taxation because this is a one-off payment.”

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