A memorial event was held for those who died following infection with HIV and Hepatitis C from blood products and blood transfusions at Augustine United Church in Edinburgh on the 2nd of March. Here we include a transcript of the First Minister’s speech:
“It is a huge honour and privilege for me and for the Deputy First Minister and the Health Secretary to be here today to share with you an occasion which is special and deeply poignant, but an occasion that I know is deeply painful for all of you.
It’s 17 years now since I first became aware of the issue of haemophilia and infected blood. As a newly elected MSP back then I heard from constituents who had been infected with HIV or hepatitis C or who cared for people who had been infected. Back then I also attended many meetings with people like Dave Bissett, Cheryl and Leon’s father, who is sadly amongst those being mourned and celebrated today. Shona also went to many of those meetings at the time and has continued to work closely with all of those affected.
In total, of course, hundreds of people in Scotland have died after being infected through blood transfusions and even after all this time it is still hard to truly imagine the difficulties, the anxieties and the hardships that people and their families have had to contend with. In addition to dealing with the illness itself, you’ve had to cope with uncertainty, with sorrow and with grief. Many people, of course, felt stigmatised despite being utterly blameless. And I know that people still fight daily battles, both physical and psychological, to achieve some kind of normality in their lives.
So today’s service commemorates what is a continuing national tragedy but also celebrates the lives of people who fought and indeed continue to fight these diseases. It honours them and it also honours the families and the friends who have helped care for them. Sometimes, of course, sacrificing your own opportunities and careers in the process.
In all of my involvement with this issue there has always been one basic and overriding principle that seems to me to be inescapable, it’s so basic in fact that we should not even try to escape it and that is this one: We as a society have a moral obligation to help people who were infected with an illness by the Health Service.
When I was an opposition MSP I campaigned for better treatment of those who had been affected. As Health Secretary I established the Penrose Inquiry,
I wanted to ensure that the circumstances surrounding the infections were investigated as fully and impartially as possible, and as First Minister now I continue to be determined to ensure that we fulfil that moral obligation to you.
That’s why on behalf of the Scottish Government and indeed previous governments, I apologised last March to everyone who has had to deal with the impact of infected NHS blood and blood products.
And it’s why the Scottish Government will take concrete steps to improve the support that is provided for people still living with HIV and hepatitis C infections and also the families of those who have sadly passed on; and further details of that support will be announced by the Health Secretary for the end of this month.
And it’s why we will, of course, do everything in our power to ensure that such dreadful events never happen again.
I know that Lorna, Cheryl and Leone will talk in a moment about a national memorial; the Scottish Government will offer any advice and support we can to Haemophilia Scotland for that project and I hope that we can together make good progress on it. It is important that we pay a permanent tribute as a nation to those who have died.
I know that nothing we can do can ever, ever make good the loss that you have suffered, the
loss that you still feel, and the loss that you will carry with you for the rest of your lives, but I want to say to you that our door, our hearts, are always open to you. We will always listen to your concerns and work with you to try and meet your needs. For myself and John and Shona and the Government as a whole, that is an unequivocal commitment.
So I hope that today’s service, by bringing together so many families today, by commemorating and celebrating the lives of those who have died, can make a contribution to that process of grieving and healing.
I am deeply grateful to everyone who has helped to organise today’s event. It has been such a privilege for me to play a small part. Thank you very much for allowing me to do so.”