BACK when I was an MSP, I got to know a group of people whose chilling story was the stuff of nightmares. They were living under the shadow of death after receiving contaminated blood and blood products. Those I met had suffered from the hereditary disorder, haemophilia. Others had contracted deadly diseases from routine transfusions.

Ten years later, the people I met, including Bill Wright, the Chair of Haemophilia Scotland, are still alive, but seriously ill. For decades, they’ve learned to cope with unimaginable levels of pain, grief, stress and exhaustion. They’ve also witnessed many people dying along the way – of Aids, or from hepatitis C and associated disease.

To have the life sucked out of you as a result of receiving life-saving treatment is heart-breaking enough, without then having to battle with all their might for truth and justice.

But last week, they finally received some light and some hope. The light came from the 1,800 pages of the Penrose Report, whose detailed, damning evidence vindicates the campaigners. It exposes the failings of the NHS, much of which the report puts down to “paternalism”: the idea that doctor knows best, that patients shouldn’t be given information that will only upset them, that professionals can keep people ignorant of risks and continue with treatment the doctor decides has, in their opinion, more benefits.

The report’s conclusion left many angry and disappointed because it only made only one recommendation – that everyone who received a transfusion before 1991 should be tested for hepatitis C. It is an important recommendation though, because the disease can lie dormant. One woman was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2008 as a result of receiving contaminated blood in 1958.

The hope did not come from the conclusions of the report, but from the response of the authorities. At last, an apology from the Prime Minister and the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service. And to their credit, Scotland’s Health Minister Shona Robison and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered an unequivocal apology for the failings of the NHS in decades past, when health was the responsibility of the Westminster Government. In opposition, they battled to get the contaminated blood scandal exposed, and now they are pledging action to help those whose lives have been destroyed.

I met with Bill Wright at the weekend and he exudes relief, hopeful that the Scottish Government will now deliver not just a respectable amount of compensation but support, justice and dignity for everyone affected.

The inquiry only happened because Scotland got its own parliament. Westminster had closed all access and sealed up its mountains of information more tightly than a Pharaoh’s tomb.

Yet the scandal was common knowledge in the corridors of power. I became deeply embroiled in the issues when I was an MSP after being made aware of the disastrous sourcing of blood from American prisons and from Barlinnie, at the height of an epidemic in intravenous drug use. I also knew that progress in developing safe blood products had been deathly slow and lacking serious resources.

I obtained documents through freedom of information that showed that it was known as far back as 1978 that Factor VIII – the main blood product used to treat haemophiliacs at that time – was linked to abnormal liver function tests.

They also proved that, in the 1980s, people who were known by their doctors to have HIV were kept in the dark about their condition. Men with haemophilia dutifully attended their clinics and continued to receive blood products, while being monitored, without their knowledge, for infection levels and disease progression.

They’d then go home to their partners with no idea they were carrying a lethal virus – even though it was an established fact by this time that HIV was a potentially fatal blood-borne virus that could be transmitted sexually. This was all contrary to a 1983 Council of Europe recommendation that patients should be informed of the risks. “Paternalism” is an inadequate explanation.

Several attempts in the Scottish Parliament to get a public inquiry, including one by me, were voted down by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition then in power. Only when the SNP was elected in 2007 did the campaigners finally achieve their wish for a public inquiry. My involvement was somewhere in the middle of a long, dark tunnel. I’ve only had a glimpse into the pain of the victims.

It’s been a long weary road. Everyone affected deserves to live out the rest of their lives in peace and comfort – and in the best health our NHS can deliver in the circumstances. That’s the least the victims of this tragedy are due.

Palestine beyond the bombs

EVER since I can remember, the word “Palestine” has conjured up images of rubble, barbed wire and crying children. So I’m looking forward to reading a Palestinian travel book by Pamela Olson: Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland.

Pamela aims to gives us a taste of the Palestine we never hear of, a Palestine of idyllic olive groves, beer gardens and universal family dramas amidst the violence and terror.

She’s touring Scotland, and you can catch her this week – at the Annexe in Partick, Glasgow tonight; in the Yes Bar in Glasgow tomorrow night; and at Cafe Cafe, High Street, Irvine on Wednesday, all at 7pm.