Thousands of people with haemophilia and others infected during surgery and childbirth in England are to get increased ex-gratia payments for being infected with the hepatitis C virus (Hep C) and/or HIV during the NHS contaminated blood scandal more than 30 years ago.
David Cameron said he was “proud to provide them with the support they deserve” in a final policy announcement regarding a £125m package of changes when taking prime minister’s questions in the Commons for the last time.
Last year he had formally apologised on behalf of the British government for “the pain and the suffering experienced by people as a result of this tragedy” and said it was something that should not have happened.
Campaigners and charities were on Wednesday trying to assess differences between schemes in England and Scotland, but Scotland, which announced its new arrangements earlier this year, appears more generous overall.
Liz Carroll, chief executive of the Haemophilia Society, said: “The new scheme announced today is an improvement on the proposals in the consultation. However, it still falls short of the support the affected community deserve and require.”
The package for England, however, has improved, with its start backdated to April, since proposals put out earlier this year were roundly condemned by patients, who said they stood to lose thousands of pounds. Officials say over the next five years it will more than double what is currently spent.
Further detail has still to be given over some discretionary payments.
The payments, a mix of lump sums and annual payments, vary for patients depending on which disease they developed and at what stage of the Hep C disease they are as a result of using contaminated blood-clotting factors. A number have both HIV and Hep C.
Currently all those infected by Hep C or HIV receive a £20,000 lump sum when they join the payment scheme and if someone progresses to the more serious stage of Hep C they get another £50,000 lump sum.
This arrangement will continue in England, but in Scotland this is changing to a £50,000 lump sum when joining the new payment scheme and a further £20,000 when someone progresses to the more serious stage of Hep C.
Governments in Wales and Northern Ireland have still to determine how they might change schemes designed to acknowledge the harm done in the 1970s and 80s. People with haemophilia need blood products from thousands of donors and at that time there was a severe shortage of clotting factors in the UK, so more were imported from the US, where donors were paid, a practice that increased the risk of unsuitable blood. Donors in both countries also included prisoners, among whom drug abuse caused an added risk.
People without haemophilia were also infected by ordinary blood transfusions, including people undergoing surgery or during childbirth.
The package for England is an improvement on changes suggested in a consultation earlier this year, which many recipients of financial help said would make them thousands of pounds worse off.
So far UK governments have paid out £400m as a result of the scandal – the system began in 1988 – and of the 5,850 people infected at that time and who have so far received payments, nearly a third have died.
Governments have always insisted the payments are voluntary – ministers have never accepted liability for a number of reasons. These include HIV only being formally identified in 1983, heat treatment for other viruses in clotting factors being introduced in the mid-1980s and Hep C not being identified until even later, after which tests to check donated blood could be developed.
Those co-infected with HIV and the more serious stage of Hep C have up to now also received annual payments of just under £29,500. This will now rise in England to about £30,500 plus consumer price inflation in the next two financial years, with it rising by another £6,000 in 2018-19.
But in Scotland, the annual payments for such co-infection have risen to £37,000.