Durham professor appointed to UK’s Infected Blood Inquiry

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A Durham University professor is giving her expertise to an Inquiry looking at how men, women and children in the UK received infected blood products.

Emma Cave, Professor of Healthcare Law at Durham Law School, will advise the Infected Blood Inquiry on medical ethics.

Thousands of people were infected with diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C from blood transfusions or blood clotting agents, during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Inquiry will examine how this happened, the impact on families; the response of authorities, including government; the nature of support offered after infection; and questions of consent.

Here, Professor Cave talks about her role with the Inquiry and her research expertise.

Q: What is your role with the Infected Blood Inquiry?

A: Sir Brian Langstaff has set up the Inquiry in a novel way. In order to ensure that expert advice is open and transparent there will be a series of reports on five aspects of the Inquiry’s remit. I will serve on the Medical Ethics team.

We will look at the role of NHS bodies and medical practitioners and consider how far they complied with standards of medical ethics. What actual and constructive knowledge was there of the risk of infection? What action was taken and was it sufficient? What guidance and standards applied and were they breached?

One of my particular interests is informed consent. Today, the law is clear. Patients must be informed of the relevant risks, benefits and alternatives in order to give their informed consent. Our expert group will also need to consider the historical principles of law and ethics. What information was provided and were appropriate standards of medical ethics applied?

Q: Your research focusses on medical law and ethics. Tell us about this.

A: I have worked on a number of projects on informed consent. Its role differs according to the age and capacity of the patient and the nature of the decision. This results in thorny legal problems. My research has focussed on seriously ill babies, adolescent refusals of treatment, public policy considerations in vaccination and what information must be disclosed to patients.

My research also spans healthcare research ethics and the role of mental capacity in medical treatment. I also co-author one of the leading medical law textbooks: Medicine Patients and the Law , which is now in its sixth edition.

I also translate my research for public and policy audiences. I’ve written blog posts and worked in 2018 as a Scottish Parliament Academic Fellow to produce a briefing on consent.

From 2018, I served on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority - the UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment and research.

Q: What does it mean to you to be able to support the Inquiry’s work?

A: The infected blood tragedy is an international issue. In the UK it has been dubbed the worst NHS treatment disaster. The Inquiry will find out what happened and why, what impact it had and to what extent the responses were fit for purpose.

The Inquiry was announced by Theresa May in 2017. It is long-awaited. Two previous inquiries lacked the breadth and official status of the Infected Blood Inquiry.

I attended the opening Commemoration in 2018 and was deeply moved. Many of the attending infected and affected have lost loved ones and friends. It is both an honour and a huge responsibility to serve the Inquiry.


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