Government 'will listen' to Blood Inquiry on compensation - Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry

Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry - Credit: Factor 8 / IBI

The government has a "moral responsibility" to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal, it will pay compensation to them if it is told to by the Infected Blood Inquiry (IBI) and support scheme payments will continue for "as long as they are needed". 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock made those three commitments as he gave evidence at the IBI on Friday, and a senior civil servant has also confirmed that "bespoke psychological support" for those infected and affected by the scandal was being worked on. This is already available in Scotland.

But campaigners will be frustrated to hear that there are "no discussions" around expanding support so that parents who lost children or the adult children of those who have died receive funding.

The scandal saw thousands given blood or blood products containing lethal viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C by the NHS - notably in north London at the Royal Free Hospital's haemophilia centre.

Over many years campaigners have fought for justice, and continually raised issues around unfairness of financial support and a lack of compensation.

On Friday aftenoon, Mr Hancock told the IBI: "I would absolutely give a commitment to anybody receiving a payment - any beneficiary infected or affected - that that payment will continue for their lifetime. I would say it goes without saying, but sometimes it does need saying.

"It is absolutely everybody's expectation within government that support should continue for as long as it's needed and I don't think anybody in government - or who might expect to be in government - would demur from that."

Mr Hancock was speaking alongside William Vineall at the IBI's base at Fleetbank House in central London. Mr Vineall is the director of NHS Quality, Safety and Investigations at the Department of Health and Social Care.

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Asked repeatedly if discussions over expanding support schemes to benefit bereaved parents or adult children who lost parents, Mr Vineall said there were "no discussions, to my knowledge" adding: "They are the boundaries we have always drawn around the schemes."

Matt Hancock, said he felt passionately about making sure infected and affected felt confident they would continue to receive psychological support. He also reiterated an apology - not only for what he called the "tragedy itself" but also for the decades of suffering afterwards.

Mr Vineall said work on the "bespoke psychological service" for those in England infected and affected was "one of the things that when Covid started to impact on us , we weren't able to take forward".

William Vineall - a senior Department of Health civil servant who gave evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry

William Vineall - A senior Department of Health civil servant who gave evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry - Credit: IBI

Mr Hancock also said the government would abide by any recommendations made "If the inquiry's recommendations point to compensation then of course we will pay compensation."

Asked directly if he accepted the government had a "moral responsibility" to address what had happened, Mr Hancock said: ""Yes, yes I do." 

Matt Hancock giving evidence at the Infected Blood Inquiry

Matt Hancock said he "reiterated" an apology to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal previously given by then-Prime Minister David Cameron - Credit: IBI

The Health Secretary ended his evidence by saying he wanted to speak directly to those infected and affected by the scandal. He said: "As well as reiterating the apology I really want to make sure that you know that we in the government support the inquiry to go everywhere, find every detail and hear all of the voices and find as many answers as possible.

"I have instructed my department to do that and to improve the financial support and to create parity as much as we possibly can. I hope that this inquiry finally brings about the closure that many are seeking as well as no doubt making recommendations about the practical changes we should bring about. 

"I am determined to make improvements even while the inquiry is ongoing but we will also listen very carefully to the inquiries conclusions. This is a tragedy that should never have happened and we owe it to all of those infected and affected to make sure that it never happens again and we learn all of the lessons fulsomely."

On Friday morning, Brendan Brown - the NHS boss in charge of the England Infected Blood Support Scheme (EIBSS) - spoke of how the EIBSS had "inherited" problems from earlier support schemes.

Jason Evans, founder of the Factor 8 campaign group, said: "We welcome these commitments from the Secretary of State today, and we look forward to working with our legal representation on the compensation framework review which Sir Robert Francis QC will lead."

Mr Hancock’s appearance comes after Scotland’s Public Health Minister Mairi Gougeon told the IBI on Tuesday that the UK Government will need to compensate those affected by the infected blood scandal.

When asked whether it was inevitable that the Government will need to provide “substantial compensation” to these infected and affected, the MSP said: “Yes.”

It was announced on Thursday that Sir Robert Francis QC, who chaired the public inquiry into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, had been appointed to carry out a study into options for a framework for compensation.

Des Collins, of Collins Solicitors who represent 1,500 "core participants" in the IBI, said: “My clients tonight will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

“It may have taken some 40 years, but for the first time today we heard the UK Government committing to paying due compensation to the infected and affected by this huge scandal, if recommended to do so when the inquiry reports. Bravo, Mr Hancock, for doing the right thing."

The IBI continues next week when it will hear evidence around the Haemophilia Society's role and medical ethics.