Blood campaigners attack government’s ‘cheap initiative’


Campaigners have attacked the government for blocking new laws that would have improved support for disabled people who were infected with contaminated NHS blood in the 1970s and 1980s.

The contaminated blood (support for infected and bereaved persons) bill had been steered swiftly through the Lords by the former disabled people’s minister, Lord [Alf] Morris.

But the government ensured that it failed to secure any parliamentary time in the Commons.

The bill would have implemented all of the recommendations of Lord Archer of Sandwell’s independent public inquiry into the scandal.

Nearly 2, 000 people with haemophilia have so far died after being treated with contaminated NHS blood and blood products. Of about 5,000 people with haemophilia, 95 per cent were infected with hepatitis C and a quarter with HIV.

Lord Morris’s bill would have increased compensation for those infected, improved medical care, reviewed the support available, and set up a committee to advise on treatment.

TaintedBlood, a group set up by survivors of the scandal and relatives of those infected, said the government’s move had “left hundreds of sick, dying and disabled people in despair” and “hammered in the final nail for all those who believe in honesty, decency and human rights”.

Only days after ensuring the bill would not be debated in the Commons, the government announced that a review of the Skipton fund, which was set up to make payments to those infected with hepatitis C, would now be carried out this year instead of in 2014.

TaintedBlood said the government’s announcement undermined Lord Archer’s work and was “nothing more than a cheap initiative that brings no tangible benefit to victims who are currently dying at a rate of at least one per month”.

Although Mike Dorricott, a TaintedBlood spokesman, said later that the Skipton fund announcement was “a step in the right direction”, he said it was “almost a kick in the teeth as far as Lord Archer and Lord Morris are concerned”.

Liz Rizzuto, chair of the Haemophilia Society, said: “The government statement brings not one penny of new support to arguably the most needy minority in Britain today.

“We hope that people across the country will join in our protest about this unsatisfactory response to the worst ever treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.”

TaintedBlood members are now awaiting the result of a judicial review brought by their committee member Andrew March into how the government reached its decision on compensation.

Gillian Merron MP, the public health minister, said: “The government has been listening carefully to the views of those affected, who have told us that our intended review date of 2014 will be too late for many of those affected.

“Therefore, the review will be brought forward to begin as soon as possible this year.”

Responding to the inquiry last year, the government refused to increase compensation for people infected with hepatitis C – instead announcing a review of the Skipton fund in 2014 – but doubled annual payments to those infected with HIV to £12,800.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said nearly £150 million had been paid out in compensation so far.

She added: “We do not believe that there is a need for legislation on the issues covered by the bill, because the majority of them are either already in place, or will be put in place, in one form or another.”

She said DH officials were already meeting twice-yearly with people with haemophilia and other members of the Haemophilia Alliance, and that the necessary health services were already available to people with haemophilia, with the DH currently considering its response to a review of prescription charges in England.

6 April 2010