The former British Health Secretary has claimed that thousands of haemophiliacs may have been unnecessarily infected with HIV and Hepatitis. David Owen said that his Department failed to spend cash set aside to provide safe blood products.

Lord Owen said in a BBC interview that he allocated several million pounds in 1975 so that Britain could be self-sufficient in blood products. He said, however, that this did not happen and, without his knowledge, US imports continued to be used.

Like Ireland, clotting agents imported from the US were responsible for most haemophiliacs in Britain contracting HIV and Hepatitis C. Seventy-six Irish haemophiliacs have died from AIDS related illnesses. In Britain, the death toll is more than 800.

Lord Owen said that he had been concerned US blood might be tainted because donors were paid and this encouraged people coming forward from disease-prone drug addicts, prisoners, alcoholics and homeless people. He called on the British Government to make a generous increase in compensation to those infected by contaminated blood.

The British Government reached a settlement with those infected with HIV in 1991. However, the sympathy payment included a waiver barring the patient from seeking any future redress if they also contracted Hepatitis.