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Christmas of uncertainty for NHS blood victims as government delays again

PUBLISHED: 17:35 17 December 2015 | UPDATED: 17:53 17 December 2015

Local victims of the contaminated blood scandal: Nick Hirsch (left), Mark Ward (top right), Maria Fletcher and her husband (bottom right)

Local victims of the contaminated blood scandal: Nick Hirsch (left), Mark Ward (top right), Maria Fletcher and her husband (bottom right)

Supplied and Polly Hancock

Victims of the contaminated blood scandal face a Christmas of uncertainty as the government has once again delayed making amends for decades of suffering.

Nick Hirsch died aged 36 from hep C contracted from contaminated bloodNick Hirsch died aged 36 from hep C contracted from contaminated blood

Local residents are among 7,500 nationally who were infected with HIV and hepatitis C (hep C) from high-risk blood products supplied by the NHS up until 1991 and have lived in ill-health ever since.

Campaigners have been fighting for 30 years for a public enquiry into the scandal and for a proper system of compensation and support for those whose lives were torn apart.

Yesterday, during an urgent debate in the House of Commons, health minister Jane Ellison admitted the timetable for reforming systems of support for victims, described as “completely unfit for purpose”, has slipped again.

“I recognise that I committed in earlier debates to consulting on proposals to reform the current payment schemes before the end of the year,” she said.

Mark Ward was told aged just 14 that he had been infected with HIV. Picture: Polly HancockMark Ward was told aged just 14 that he had been infected with HIV. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Despite our best efforts to meet that commitment, we are unfortunately not ready to publish the consultation before the recess. However, I confirm today that it will be published in January.

“The delay will, I know, be disappointing for many who were anticipating the consultation before the end of the year.

“I apologise for the delay, in particular to Members of the House who have been campaigning tirelessly for a resolution on behalf of their constituents and to those who are directly affected, who continue to wait patiently for our proposals.”

Earlier this year prime minister David Cameron apologised on behalf of the government for the tragedy and promised £25million support for victims immediately and to increase that after the general election in May.

Maria Fletcher and her husbandMaria Fletcher and her husband

But the money has not been released and announcements were first delayed until after the summer recess of Parliament, then until after the chancellor’s Autumn Spending Review, and then again until the end of this year before yesterday’s further hold-up.

It brings yet more agony for those who have lost their health or loved ones to the scandal, as they face another Christmas without proper financial support.

Former British Airways flight attendant Mark Ward, 46, who was infected at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead as a child and told age 14 he had HIV and later hep C, said of the continued delays in November: “The government have certainly not met their promises and that reinforces what we’ve said for a long time, they are just waiting for more of us to die then they won’t have to pay out.”

Della Hirsch, sister of former Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone, who buried her musician son Nick in Highgate Cemetery in 2012 after having watched his downward health spiral during painful treatment for hep C, said: “Frankly, the whole matter drags on without relief.”

Nick Hirsch on stage with his bandNick Hirsch on stage with his band

Maria Fletcher, infected with hep C at University College Hospital, said: “I urge the government to stop feeding us victims and our families lies and put David Cameron’s promised words into action. I just want justice.”

They are among 7,500 in the UK with the blood disorder haemophilia who contracted HIV or hep C following a deadly medical oversight in which blood products from high risk donors, such as drug addicts and prisoners, were given to NHS patients.

Diana Johnson MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood, told the Commons yesterday: “On three occasions, ministers promised a statement before Christmas. When the minister speaks about a consultation in January, I assume that she means January 2016.

“I would like clarification on that, because dates always seem to slip, and such action from the government fuels distrust and resentment among people who have been let down for too long.”

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