Page last updated at 13:05 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 14:05 UK

Contaminated blood inquiry opens

The inquiry will investigate how blood supplies were managed

A public inquiry into how people were infected with hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated blood has said that extra compensation is not within its remit.

Thousands of Scots, including haemophiliacs, were given contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s before screening was introduced in 1991.

It has been described as one of the most tragic episodes in the health service's history.

The inquiry is the result of more than 15 years of pressure from campaigners.

It is being held before Lord Penrose, who formally launched the investigation almost a year after it was announced by the Scottish Government.

The former senior judge opened proceedings in Edinburgh by telling the assembled campaigners and families how no individuals or institutions will be held criminally liable for the infections.

Many people have died. Many of the patients who survive, and the families of patients who died, deserve our deepest sympathy
Lord Penrose

He said "actions and failures" may be identified.

But he added: "Neither of those matters will involve finding individuals or institutions legally liable to penalties, or for damages or for breach of duty in a legal sense.

"I know that there are some who have argued that this inquiry should be able to deal with compensation. That is not part of my remit."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon had previously indicated that compensation would not form part of the inquiry, but it was only formally confirmed by Lord Penrose when the inquiry opened.

The inquiry in Edinburgh began with a minute's silence for those who died from infected blood products.

Lord Penrose assured potential witnesses that he was "conscious of the tragic circumstances that bring us together".

Legal challenge

He added: "We are aware also of the burden of responsibility and concern that is carried by those who treated patients, seeking to manage their illnesses, only to find that they had inflicted further pain and suffering on them.

"Many people have died. Many of the patients who survive, and the families of patients who died, deserve our deepest sympathy."

Among the issues that will be investigated at the inquiry will be how the NHS collected, treated and supplied the infected blood.

Lord Penrose will scrutinise what patients were told and how they were monitored.

He will also probe the deaths of Rev David Black and Eilleen O'Hara, who died in 2003 after becoming infected with hepatitis C following NHS treatment.

Their families launched a legal challenge last year which led to the inquiry.

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