REVEALED: the Infected Blood Inquiry's progress with the NIBTS
Over at least the past nine months, the Infected Blood Inquiry has been in touch with the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) as part of its investigation. At present the Inquiry does not publish the “Rule 9” requests it sends in real-time, however we have been able to extract the following information directly from board minutes. We have presented the below chronology so as to keep you informed about the progress that the Inquiry has made with the NIBTS.
Mrs Jackson appraised the Board. The Inquiry is due to open on 24 September 2018 in London and is UK wide. It is the intention of the Inquiry to look at events from the 1970s to date. NIBTS are working closely with BSO Legal Services. The Inquiry has requested information including storage and the archiving of documents since the inception of NIBTS in the 1940s. Steps have been taken in NIBTS to secure, review and catalogue all relevant documentation and data both on-site and in storage. The Chief Executive has met with the directors of other Trusts to share information and DoHNI have forwarded a letter from the Chair of the Inquiry regarding the scope of the Inquiry. The NIBTS Senior Management Team will initially co-ordinate the Agency’s response to the Inquiry and will be liaising closely with the Director of Legal Services, BSO. The Director of Legal Services, BSO, has been in communication with the Inquiry Solicitor and will seek to appoint Senior Counsel which will represent HSC. DoHNI are represented by the Departmental Solicitor’s Office, DSO. NIBTS will also be collaborating across UK Blood Services in Scotland, Wales and England through the UK Forum. Mrs Jackson further advised the Board of the way the Inquiry will be scheduled and run. Hearings should open in Spring 2019. The detailed schedule has yet to be finalised. There are key issues for NIBTS:
i. Identifying all available documentation.
ii. Time and resource required.
Mrs Jackson has advised DoHNI that support for the Inquiry needs to be properly resourced. NIBTS will continue to engage with the Inquiry solicitors and provide regular updates. The Northern Ireland response to the Inquiry needs to be a collaboration of knowledge from all HSC bodies. The Board discussed the Inquiry format, retrieving documentation, prescribing practices and product purchasing. NIBTS will have a shared intranet site to keep staff appraised.
Mrs Jackson and Dr Morris met with the Solicitor to the Inquiry along with representatives from other blood establishments in London on 28 September 2018. The Inquiry will reconvene in May 2019 initially to hear evidence from those infected and affected . Between September 2018 and May 2019, the Inquiry will gather evidence. Thus far, there have been approximately 3000 responses, however, 5000+ responses are expected.
NIBTS have responded to two “Rule 9” requests from the Inquiry that relate to the scope of documentation held by NIBTS and the retention of documents from 1948 to the present day. NIBTS has responded to advise of what records are held and the rationale behind which records that would not have been retained. Staff have been recruited and are being supervised by the NIBTS Information Governance Officer to go through information and records in situ in NIBTS HQ. NIBTS continue to liaise with HSC Board and BHSCT regarding the retrieval of information and also continue to work alongside DLS and DoHNI regarding responses to the Inquiry. The Chairman and Board members discussed the timely retrieval of documentation and on-going support to the Inquiry. The Board also discussed the timeline of the Inquiry which was originally five years but has been amended to be concluded within two years. The Chief Executive has liaised with DoHNI to arrange a meeting with all Trusts, BSO and HSC Board to agree an all Northern Ireland approach. Mrs Jackson further advised that assurance regarding the safety of blood and blood products will be provided to donors and patients via NIBTS website, social media and donor information.
The Chief Executive, Medical Director and Head of HR & Corporate Services attended a meeting co-ordinated by DoHNI, Health Protection Branch on 12 November 2018. There were representatives from each Trust, BSO, PHA, HSCB, DLS and DSO. Agreement was reached that there should be a co-ordinated approach to the response from NI health bodies. Additional legal resource should be in place early 2019. Mrs Jackson further advised that there is now a Regional Group, chaired by the Department’s PHD and Infection Control. There have been a series of meetings organised for January – April 2019 where legal services advice, resourcing, communications and media enquiries will all be discussed. Mrs Jackson also advised that further “Rule 9” responses and a witness statement have been submitted to the Inquiry’s solicitors. NIBTS is now in the process of providing the Inquiry with relevant supporting information which will be scanned and uploaded to the Inquiry Team as per their instructions.
Mr Ritchie updated the Board, an e-mail has been received this morning from the Infected Blood Inquiry team requesting more detail on sessions within prisons. Mr Ritchie advised the Board that 1985 was the last prison session held in Northern Ireland, however, currently it is not clear if the sessions were for staff or inmates. This will be all scrutinised before replying to the IBI team. Mr Ritchie further advised that all relevant documentation held by NIBTS has been identified and is being uploaded on the secure IBI site.