More money for some blood scandal victims is 'step in right direction'
- Credit: PA / Factor 8
The government has announced plans to make the systems of financial support for victims of the contaminated blood scandal fairer across the four home nations.
The contaminated blood scandal saw thousands of NHS patients given blood products - in many cases to treat haemophilia - which contained lethal viruses like HIV and hepatitis C.
A number of those affected were patients at the Royal Free Hospital's haemophilia unit in the 1970s and 1980s.
An "independent reviewer" will be appointed to consider how compensation can offered in future, the government has said.
Victims of the scandal have welcomed the improvements to the financial support announced by Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt as a "step in the right direction", but continue to worry about the speed of progress and families who "continue to be excluded".
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The differences in support available in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have long frustrated campaigners, who have frequently raised the issue - as has Sir Brian Langstaff who leads the ongoing independent Infected Blood Inquiry.
In a statement, Ms Mordaunt said she was "pleased to confirm" the changes which would bring the four national schemes into "broader parity" and see increases in annual payments will be backdated to April 2019.
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In England, the support is administered by the England Infected Blood Support Scheme (EIBSS). One of the biggest improvements for English victims of the scandal will see the payments given to bereaved spouses substantially increased. Now bereaved partners will get 100% of the support their loved one received in the first year after death, and 75% in following years. This has previously been the case for Scottish victims of the scandal.
Lump sum payouts given to those who contracted hep C or HIV will also be increased substantially, again in line with what has previously been available in Scotland.
Mark Ward, who contracted HIV from tainted blood products he received while a patient at the Royal Free told this newspaper that "the long awaited announcement" had "broadly provided equality across the UK".
He added: "We also see a further tweaking of the figures which will bring some financial relief along with much needed reassurance for our loved ones.
"However, in a response from the IBI chair, Sir Brian Langstaff reaffirmed his intention that the inquiry’s work will continue and appropriate recommendations will be made. Sadly, the reality is someone losing their life every four days from this scandal."
Mark Stewart developed hep C after, along with his father and brother who both died suffering from hep C, being given infected blood products.
He said: "It's a step in the right direction, at least know I can die with some peace knowing [my partner] Francesca can survive and not be thrown in to poverty like my mother was."
Campaigners have also always called for the government to act to implement compensation without waiting for the Infected Blood Inquiry to conclude.
Penny Mordaunt, the government minister with responsibility for the issue, said in a statement: "To meet the government’s commitment to consider a framework for compensation, we can confirm our intention to appoint an independent reviewer to carry out a study, looking at options for a framework for compensation, and to report back [...] with recommendations, before the Inquiry reports."
Jason Evans, of the Factor 8 campaign group, pointed out that the changes continue to exclude some families impacted by the scandal.
He said: "Although the Minister's statement talks of support for those "affected" and "families", this remains limited in scope to those infected who are still alive and widows.
"This means that parents whose children died before getting married and those who have lost one or both parents remain entirely excluded from any ongoing support whatsoever."
Reacting to the prospect of compensation, Jason said: "We do believe this is a step in the right direction, though, of course, it is not the acceptance of legal liability that many had hoped for."
Sir Brian Langstaff, chair of the IBI, said: “I welcome the commitment to bring the four national schemes into broader parity, to help to alleviate what I have described as the grinding hardship which far too many people have been condemned through no fault of their own."
He moved to reassure infected and affected families that the compensation review would not affect the inquiries investigation into the scandal.