Disabled campaigners say they feel “angry and let down” by the government’s decision to offer only a slight improvement to the compensation it will pay survivors of the NHS contaminated blood disaster.
More than 2,000 people with haemophilia have so far died as a result of being infected with hepatitis C and HIV through contaminated NHS blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
Successive governments have resisted calls for more generous compensation and other measures to support survivors.
A review of the support available in England has ended with a government pledge to increase compensation for some of those infected by hepatitis C, at an estimated cost of between £100 million and £130 million over four years.
A report made it clear the decision not to make a more generous settlement was partly due to “affordability in the financial context of the current spending review”.
Mike Dorricott, a spokesman for TaintedBlood, the user-led group that campaigns for justice for those affected, said the package would help probably only one in five of those infected.
The package includes an increase in the one-off payments made to those with the most serious hepatitis C-related diseases, from £25,000 to £50,000, as well as a new annual payment of £12,800, to match the sum paid to those infected with HIV.
And all those infected with hepatitis C who are in “serious financial need” will be able to apply for discretionary payments for the first time.
Posthumous claims will also be allowed for the first time on behalf of those who died before 29 August 2003 after being infected with hepatitis C, but their dependants will only have three months to lodge a claim.
And those not already exempt will be able to ask the government to cover the cost of an annual prescription pre-payment certificate.
Dorricott said the “arbitrary” three-month deadline for dependants of those who died before 29 August 2003 was “disgraceful”.
He added: “There are some positives in the announcement but unfortunately they are very minor ones.”
Lord [Alf] Morris, whose contaminated blood private members’ bill is due to receive its second Commons reading on 11 February, called on the government to “meet the haemophilia community and listen again to its plea for a response that is more in keeping with the scale of the disaster”.
He made it clear to Disability News Service that he would not withdraw his bill, because the government’s announcement failed to meet the recommendations of the independent public inquiry set up by him and chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell.
But Earl Howe, the junior health minister, told fellow peers: “We believe that this is a fair and reasonable package of support for these poor victims.”
And he added: “We do not intend to revisit it in the future.”
He said the government believed the deadline of the end of March “should be sufficient to enable those with a valid claim to come forward” because “on the whole…the victims’ families know who they are”.
12 January 2011