NHS infected blood scandal: minister defends new delay in compensation

Labour tells Ben Gummer that victims with HIV and hepatitis C feel they are being left to die in misery so costs of eventual settlement are more affordable

The government has come under fire from both sides of the Commons following delays to new compensation for victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal.

Ben Gummer, a junior health minister, was forced on Monday to defend the government’s plans to push back the release of £25m in financial support for those affected, despite a promise from the prime minister in March that the cash would be released immediately.

Gummer said the cash would only be released after the government had time to consult victims. The consultation is now set to begin in the autumn and should report back by the end of the year.

He insisted the government was moving “at speed”, and said the consultation was essential to make sure the views and wishes of beneficiaries were properly taken into account.

The money would be used to reform the five ex-gratia schemes set up to support victims of the scandal since 1988, Gummer said. He conceded that many of those affected had stern criticisms of the way the schemes had been handled.

Diana Johnson, a shadow home affairs minister, raised the debate with an urgent question in the Commons on Monday. She called the issue the worst treatment scandal in the history of the NHS.

The Labour MP criticised the government’s “shabby” decision to inform peers late last Friday about a delay in spending the cash allocated to support patients infected with hepatitis C and HIV during the 1970s and 1980s.

“I cannot overstate the feelings of anguish that have been caused by the government’s conduct in recent days,” Johnson said.

“Many victims feel they are being left to die in misery so that the costs of any eventual settlement scheme become more affordable.”

Jason McCartney, the Conservative MP for Colne Valley, said the government could save time by instead referring to the recommendations in a report by the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, which he co-chaired.

“The victims are dying,” McCartney said, “let’s not wait any longer.”

Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said Gummer’s excuses for tabling the government’s statement in the Lords rather than the Commons were “not good enough”.

He said: “There should have been an oral statement in the Commons. The fact that he didn’t have much to say is not a reason to put a written statement out in the Lords on a Friday afternoon.”

David Cameron apologised in March to thousands of victims who were infected with HIV and hepatitis C after receiving transfusions of infected blood in the 1970s and 1980s. His apology followed the publication of an independent inquiry in Scotland that recommended the mass screening for hepatitis C of everyone who was given blood before September 1991.

The five-year inquiry, headed by the former judge Lord Penrose, estimated that nearly 3,000 people in Scotland were infected with hepatitis C and 78 people contracted HIV after authorities failed to screen blood products.

In the Commons on Monday, Gummer also refused a request by Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, for a Hillsborough-style investigationinto the scandal.

Burnham called for a wide-ranging inquiry into the scandal to “get to the full truth of what went wrong”, but Gummer claimed it would slow down efforts to compensate victims.


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

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