SCOTTISH victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal and families of those who have died were told by the First Minister that “our door, our hearts, will always be open to you” during an emotional tribute at a private memorial service yesterday.

Campaigners also launched the Contaminated Blood Memorial Fund appeal for a lasting memorial to hundreds of people who have lost their lives after becoming infected with HIV, Hepatitis C or other related illnesses by blood products in the 1970s. Many more are seriously ill.

Nicola Sturgeon addressed the congregation at Augustine United Church in Edinburgh, with Health Secretary Shona Robison and Finance Secretary John Swinney were also in attendance.

She told grieving relatives: “I know that nothing we can do can make good the loss you feel, the loss that you will continue to carry with you for the rest of your lives.

“But I can guarantee that our door, our hearts, will always be open to you. We will always listen to your concerns, and work with you to meet your needs.”

She went on: “Even after all this time, it is still hard to truly imagine the difficulties, the anxieties and hardships that people and their families have had to contend with. Not simply dealing with the illness itself, but also coping with uncertainty, sorrow and grief. Many people of course felt stigmatised despite being utterly blameless.

“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 a continuing national tragedy. It 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 to care for them, sometimes of course sacrificing your own opportunities and careers in the process.”

Bill Wright, chairman of Haemophilia Scotland, which organised the event, said the memorial service was about bereaved families sharing their sense of loss and finding they are not alone.

He said: “We are really pleased that it went so well and that there was a real sense of support for a permanent memorial. Clearly all scars will never be healed, but some may find that by also exchanging memories we are less alone.

“This has been a very long and dark tunnel. Our wish is to help shine some light at its end by honouring lost loved-ones through what we do next.”

Donations can be made online at Texting CBME23 to 70070 will donate £10 to the fund.

Bill Wright: Memorial will help us look back ... and see a way ahead

ALMOST 20 years ago, a lovely man called John, along with his wife Pat, approached me – not long after I had moved back to live in Perthshire.

John, like me, was among the many people who had been infected by Hepatitis C through blood products, while others had also been infected with HIV/Aids. John was a formidable campaigner to see justice for all those around him, who had been blighted by this unforgiving disaster. 

John died. It happened a few years later from liver disease, as has happened far too often with those infected with the Hepatitis C virus. He never lived to hear the long-wished for apology from Scotland’s First Minister on March 26 last year, or the avowed commitment by government to finally put in place meaningful measures to help bereaved families move on with their lives. 

Thankfully, some of the campaigners from two decades ago are still with us but continue to experience first-hand the effects of being infected. They include Bruce Norval, Robert Mackie, Philip Dolan and Andy Gunn. 

John and his wife Pat may no longer be with us, but Scotland owes it to them, along with the many families so cruelly bereaved, to mark in some way a medical disaster of such scale and depth it should never be forgotten. Better financial support, better understanding of what happened, and care and support services, are some of the steps Scotland might now finally provide for those both left behind and still living. A key step is also a national memorial.

Through the provision of such a memorial, we can finally start to find a place in all our lives where families and friends can quietly and peacefully mark what has happened to them because of their losses, but are also able to move on. 

The actual nature of that memorial is not for me to say, or for government. It has to be agreed collectively among those whose loved-ones died, whether from HIV or Hepatitis C, whether via blood transfusion or blood product. Those bereaved families must feel they collectively “own” it. The most critical element is that it is a memorial that has been decided upon by the families and friends that have lost loved-ones, and it is supported by Scotland.

Yet making such a memorial happen also needs an actual date by which it must be set up. If a physical memorial is to be made, it will need sufficient time to be allowed between families and others affected agreeing what they want, and its commissioning and completion. If there is anyone reading this who wants to be involved in any way, please contact us via the Haemophilia Scotland office. 

Meanwhile, there are some practical steps required, not least the raising of money and resources to make the memorial happen. My colleagues in Haemophilia Scotland, including Dan Farthing-Sykes,  Bruce Norval and some families, had already been thinking of the need for such a national memorial. 

So the appeal for a National Contaminated Blood Memorial has now been launched at a commemoration gathering attended by the First Minister.

It can help ensure such a terrible disaster is recognised, learned from and never happens again. Families in Scotland deserve better than they have had. A national memorial is a step toward to putting things right.

Bill Wright is chairman of Haemophilia Scotland