Calls for immediate compensation for thousands of victims contaminated by infected NHS blood have been rejected by ministers at a meeting with campaigners and survivors – but more health support may be made available.
Despite one person dying every four days on average from HIV, hepatitis C or other conditions, the government on Tuesday turned down a request for a national compensation scheme.
There are estimated to be between 5,000 and 7,000 victims still alive who acquired viral infections through transfusions from the health service. Many are haemophiliacs who need regular transfusions to help their blood clot.
Products supplied by the NHS in the 1970s and 1980s came from the US using blood obtained from prisoners and drug addicts who were paid for their donations. Imported products were inadequately screened.
The next session of the infected blood inquiry is due to take evidence from experts starting on 24 February in London. It does not have the power to make compensation awards. Up to 30,000 people are believed to have been infected; many have died.
Support payments have been made to victims living with life-altering conditions but there is little consistency in sums provided across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Jason Evans, founder of the campaign group Factor 8, was among those at the meeting on Tuesday pressing Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden and health minister Nadine Dorries for an immediate compensation scheme modelled on that operated in the Republic of Ireland. Others were said to accept compensation may come after the end of the inquiry.
Dorries is to consider whether more mental health support should be available for victims. Dowden promised to look at whether preliminary work could be done examining possible compensation frameworks. Talks are to be held with devolved governments about better parity of provision in existing support payments.
After the meeting, Evans said: “Bearing in mind that one victim is dying every four days, we saw it prudent to seek from the government a commitment to begin working with us now, rather than after the inquiry, on a framework for compensation similar to that which has existed in the Republic of Ireland for almost 20 years.
“By starting that work now, rather than after the inquiry which is not now expected to report until mid-2022, we could have ensured that many hundreds of people were still alive to see some form of closure if and when liability is established or accepted. Instead, the government has consigned those people to death without some form of justice on purely administrative grounds.
Des Collins, a partner at Collins Solicitors representing over 1,400 people at the inquiry, said: “The government is being intransigent. Today the Cabinet Office have said that their hands are tied in relation to the issue of paying compensation because of the ongoing public inquiry.
“This couldn’t be further from the truth. The inquiry cannot determine civil or criminal liability – nor can it award compensation.
“This meeting today would have been a good opportunity to agree to settle the (concurrent, but currently stayed group litigation) and to start a serious discussion around compensation.
“The government has admitted liability at previous inquiries and paid compensation while allowing the inquiry to get to the bottom of why this scandal happened, who was responsible and to help make sure this type of thing never happens again.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The infected blood scandal should never have happened and we established this inquiry so that all those who suffered can get the answers they deserve.
“Today ministers from the Cabinet Office and Department for Health and Social Care met with groups representing those infected and affected by this tragedy. Campaigners raised a number of issues about the support that would assist them outside of the inquiry process. Ministers have committed to looking at these issues carefully and to report back on where rapid progress can be made.”