No organised way of how pupils were told about HIV diagnosis, inquiry hears

Pupils at a boarding school who were diagnosed with HIV were not told of their diagnoses in an organised manner, an inquiry has heard.

In the final day of evidence this week in the Infected Blood Inquiry relating to Lord Mayor Treloar College, a boarding school in Hampshire, lead counsel Jenni Richards QC outlined the evidence that has been heard.

Several former pupils and their relatives appeared this week detailing their experience of attending the specialist school for children with disabilities in the 1970s and 1980s.

From 1973, pupils with haemophilia began attending the school and were treated at an on-site NHS centre.

From the 1980s onwards, pupils started being diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis after receiving infected blood products which were given to them as a form of treatment for haemophilia.

As a result, 72 haemophiliac pupils have since died.

On Friday, Ms Richards recalled how some witnesses – who either gave evidence this week or in an earlier hearing in 2019 – told of their experiences of discovering they had tested positive for HTLV-3, the former name of HIV, or Aids.

For pupils who were not diagnosed, they highlighted scenarios such as room-mates not returning to school after a holiday break and being told not to be concerned about it.

“In relation to how individual pupils were informed they had tested positive for HTLV-3, the evidence the inquiry has received and heard suggests there was not a single, uniform approach adopted,” Ms Richards told the inquiry.

“There are witnesses who recall being told in a group with other pupils, in a matter-of-fact way, ‘You have it, you don’t, you have it, you don’t’. Others recall being told on their own by Dr Aronstam (a consultant haematologist at the centre), possibly with others.”

She added: “We have heard evidence this week that communication appears over quite a long period of time in the sense that there are some (pupils) who may have been told in 1985, others may not have been told until 1986, which raises the question about there being delays given we know that Dr Aronstam certainly had a number of results by March of 1985.

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“We’ve heard evidence this week which suggests that some pupils may not have been told at all. There’s also evidence which paints a picture that, for the most part, parents do not appear to have been told directly by the haemophilia centre.

“There does not appear to have been any consideration given to having a person there, whether parent, house master, or someone in loco parentis, to provide emotional and pastoral support in what must have been a horrific time.”

For the hepatitis diagnoses, she said there appeared to be no “systematic approach” when informing parents that their children were showing abnormal liver functions, while pupils who were concerned about symptoms showing in their friends were told it “was not something that they needed to be concerned about”.

“Everything that you have heard and read so far paints a very clear and powerful picture of the effect that this has had on individuals’ lives,” she added.

Later in the afternoon, the inquiry heard evidence relating to research projects undertaken during the 1970s.

Several trials took place, including analysing the effects on using prophylactics to treat the haemophiliac boys, plus studies into hepatitis.

During the course of one hepatitis study, Dr Peter Kirk, who worked at the haematology centre at the school, requested the participants only receive one type of blood product, the inquiry heard.

Despite the concerns surrounding giving the boys different types of blood products during the trial, there was not “a change of therapy, or change in the approach to treatment”, following the study, Ms Richards said.

Letters were also shown demonstrating doctors asking for permission for the boys to take part, however some of the forms “simply don’t explain what it is the parent is consenting to”, she added.

The hearing has now taken a break for several weeks and will return in July where evidence will be heard from government witnesses.