The Chair Sir Brian Langstaff opened the Hearing by explaining that the Inquiry had come to Belfast as a matter of principle. This is the first UK wide independent statutory public inquiry and the greatest tragedy of the NHS and that the Inquiry is putting the people at the heart of it.
Mr Kirkpatrick, now in his fifties, described that he started receiving blood products aged 10 or 11 years old. He commenced home treatment in 1976 as one of the first to do so.
Mr Kirkpatrick described how he was called into attend a meeting at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast by Dr Mayne with another six or seven patients and they were informed that the hospital wanted to test them for AIDS. He was tested and given the all clear which caused him to feel extremely relieved given the stigma in the press surrounding the AIDS virus at the time.
He then described how a few years later at a clinical appointment he was told that he had Non A and Non B Hepatitis, later known as Hepatitis C. He was not aware that he had ever been tested for Hepatitis. He was given no further information as to what this meant at the time. He was not advised of any risks of transmission.
He described that when he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C that his wife would follow him around the house sterilising everything to make sure that there was no risk to the children. Mr Kirkpatrick described how he felt unclean and only now as a result of the Inquiry has he been offered any counselling.
Mr Kirkpatrick was also told that he had been given a batch of Factor VIII that was potentially at risk of carrying infection with VCJD.
Mr Kirkpatrick described how despite his Haemophilia and the constant treatments that he underwent, he always managed to participate fully in school and university and went onto have a successful career. However, in 1999 when he commenced treatment for his Hepatitis C he experienced extreme side effects.
He described the “shocking, confused process of passing on life-threatening information to patients” including himself, “where often information is passed on to patients because they ticked a box”.
Mr Kirkpatrick said this should never be allowed to happen again.
The second witness to give evidence was Brigid Campbell, whose haemophiliac father died in 1990 having been infected with HIV in 1983 from contaminated blood products.
Mrs Campbell described that in 1990 the family went on holiday and her father became ill very quickly. He was admitted to hospital and he sadly passed away shortly after. Mrs Campbell described how the staff at the hospital all “gowned up” and wore gloves and her father had to be in a room on his own due to his infection.
Mrs Campbell recalled the ordeal of her father’s funeral, revealing that special precautions had to be taken. She said his body was delivered to the undertaker in a “disaster bag” and the family were only allowed to have his coffin opened at his wake for one night, and under strict conditions. Having seen her late father’s medical records, Mrs Campbell expressed her dissatisfaction with the way that her father’s HIV diagnosis was communicated to him.
Mrs Campbell described her father as a determined and persevering person. Despite his disability he had managed to set up and run a successful business. He loved sport and showed resilience and courage coping admirably with his serious health conditions.
The final witness of the day, to be known as Ms E, told the Inquiry that contracting hepatitis C from contaminated blood caused her to lose a successful career and led to the break-up of her first marriage. Ms E had the genetic blood disorder Von Willebrand disease. She was told she contracted hepatitis C from being given a blood product as a teenager.
She told the Inquiry how at a routine haematology appointment, her doctor asked her how she was feeling. When Ms E replied that she was extremely tired the doctor replied that if it wasn’t her ME it must be her Hepatitis C. This was the first time that Ms E became aware that she had Hepatitis C. She was never informed that she had been tested for it nor was she informed that she had tested positive.
The Inquiry was told that the doctor had no recollection of the conversation.
Ms E also recalled being told by a doctor in the 1990s that she would not live to see her 30th birthday. She explained how she asked her then husband to go out and purchase a camcorder so she could make video for her son so whenever he was older he knew who she was.
Ms E told the Inquiry her health had deteriorated over the years. As well as chronic fatigue syndrome she developed chronic fibromyalgia and has suffered from arthritis and serious gynaecological problems. While she was later told her Hepatitis C had cleared and the Von Willebrands disease had also faded, her general health had not improved.
Ms E spoke of the stigma she has endured. She recalled when she gave birth to her first child she was kept in a separate room from the other pregnant women, with a yellow hazard sign on the door. She also said she was always treated last when she visited the dentist, again in a separate room.
Ms E thanked the Inquiry for coming to Northern Ireland, expressing her concern that Northern Ireland sometimes isn’t taken into account with the rest of the UK.
Counsel for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Health and Social Care Board presented an application to the Inquiry of the concerns of the Trust relating to criticisms of their current and former employees.
The Trust proposed that medical professionals criticised be able to provide a full response and appear in person to respond. This would involve redacting the paragraphs in witness statements that contain the criticisms until such time as a full response is received. The Chair addressed the concerns, pointing out that those criticised had the duration of the Inquiry to respond fully to criticisms and that those criticised were not prohibited from communicating with the Trust. He refused the application.