Children told in 'batches of five' if they had HIV at infected blood school, then sent back to class

(left to right) Gary Webster, Owen Savill, Stephen Nicholls, Lee Stay, Ade Goodyear and Julian Gatrick, who attended Treloar school in the 1970s and 1980s. Mr Nicholls gave evidence at the Infected Blood Inquiry on Wednesday.
(Left to right) Former Treloar school pupils Gary Webster, Owen Savill, Stephen Nicholls, Lee Stay, Ade Goodyear and Julian Gatrick. (Alamy) (Joe Gammie, PA Images)

The long-awaited report into the infected blood scandal has detailed how tens of thousands of people were let down by the NHS and other institutions after putting their trust in them.

More than 30,000 people were infected with HIV and hepatitis C while they were receiving NHS care between the 1970s and 1990s in the biggest treatment scandal in the history of the NHS.

While the health service is very much at the centre of the affair, it is not the only organisation to take the blame for contributing to some 3,000 deaths of people given infected blood products.

Also accused of being culpable is Treloar School, a school in Hampshire for disabled children and young people, which offered specialist treatment for boys with haemophilia. Those boys would go on to be used as “objects for research”, according to the inquiry's report, with “very few escaped being infected”.

Between 1970 and 1987, several pupils at the boarding school were given treatment for haemophilia at an on-site NHS centre while receiving their education, but it was later found that many with the condition had been treated with plasma blood products infected with hepatitis and HIV.

The report highlights the "dismay and distress" caused in many cases as GPs, receptionists, nurses, and even headteachers and pharmaceutical companies were told of the diagnoses before the patients themselves.

One particularly chilling detail in the 2,527-page report is how some pupils were gathered in "batches of five" and told “you have, you haven’t" as staff revealed to them if they'd been infected with a deadly disease.

Holy Rood Church, Holybourne near Alton, Hampshire, England, UK, April 2024. Commemorative plaque on a church pew honoring the Treloar haemophiliac students who are sadly no longer with us. Historically, the Lord Mayor Treloar School was associated with the infected blood scandal, and former pupils with haemophilia have filed legal action against the school for giving them contaminated blood products infected with HIV and hepatitis in the 1970s and 1980s.
A commemorative plaque to victims at Holy Rood Church, Holybourne near Alton. (Alamy) (Gillian Pullinger)

The fact that these boys were then told to go back to class, rather than home, to their parents or to a counsellor, is described in the report as "appalling".

It condemns the conduct of the late Dr Anthony Aronstam, former director of the school's haemophilia centre, who was said to have "played down the risks both of hepatitis and AIDS".

"There was no consistent practice in telling individuals that they had been infected with HIV," the report goes on. "Some were never told by the school and only found out from their home doctor. Others were told in groups."

It details how staff went around a room saying "yes, no, yes, no" to indicate who was HIV positive, adding that if children were first told at the school that they'd tested positive, their parents were not present and there was no "structured facility" for support after that, adding that there was "very little evidence of professional psychological counselling".

"A large percentage (probably about 70%) of those pupils with haemophilia who attended Treloar’s School died in consequence of their infection," the report says.

"Of those who were pupils in the early 1980s, a great majority were infected with HIV; and very few, whether suffering from HIV or not, avoided being infected with hepatitis."

The few surviving former pupils included in trials carried out at the school gave a "consistent account" that the increased risks from blood products they were given "were not explained" and that there was "no meaningful consultation" with their parents or with them.

The report highlights how boys at the school – then known as Lord Mayor Treloar College – were treated as "research subjects" whose safety and wellbeing was put behind the results sought by clinicians.

It says research was a "fundamental part" of activities at the haemophilia centre, for reasons that were "not difficult to understand".

As Dr Rosemary Biggs, a central figure in haemophilia care remarked: “The collection of 49 haemophilic patients" at the school presented a "unique opportunity to study the disease".

Research at Treloar – which merged with a girls’ school in 1978 to become co-educational – was "unparalleled elsewhere" – but the report says "informed consent for participation was neither sought nor given".

Boys at the school were unnecessarily treated with multiple commercial concentrates that were known to carry higher risks of infection, rather than being offered alternative safer treatments.

Treloar College in Holybourne near Alton, Hampshire, England, UK, April 2024. The college provides education, care and therapy for young disabled people. Historically, its predecessor, the Lord Mayor Treloar School was associated with the infected blood scandal, and former pupils with haemophilia have filed legal action against the school for giving them contaminated blood products infected with HIV and hepatitis in the 1970s and 1980s.
The report highlights how clinicians at Treloar's haemophilia centre ignored the risks of transfusions. (Alamy) (Gillian Pullinger)

Among the products being tested was Factor 8, a medicine extracted from blood plasma, much of which was imported from the US and made using blood bought from prisoners, drug users, sex workers and other high-risk groups.

The report, written by inquiry chairman Sir Brian Langstaff found that there is “no doubt” that the healthcare professionals at Treloar’s were aware of the risks of contracting viruses from these products.

Sir Brian adds: “Not only was it a prerequisite for research, a fundamental aspect of Treloar’s, but knowledge of the risks is displayed in what the clinicians there wrote at the time.

“The pupils were often regarded as objects for research, rather than first and foremost as children whose treatment should be firmly focused on their individual best interests alone. This was unethical and wrong.”

In a statement on Monday, Rishi Sunak issued a “wholehearted and unequivocal” apology to the victims of the biggest treatment disaster in the NHS, vowing that “comprehensive” compensation will be delivered “whatever it costs”.

Boys at the school were just one example of the thousands of victims who were given contaminated blood, with the report claiming there was "chilling" cover-up, with evidence of Department of Health documents being marked for destruction in 1993.

In a statement, Treloar School and College said the report "shows the full extent of this horrifying national scandal" while laying bare the "systemic failure" at the heart of it.

"We are devastated that some of our former pupils were so tragically affected and hope that the findings provide some solace for them and their families," it says.

Read more