Government wants ‘damage limitation’ over contaminated blood – campaigner

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A campaigner whose father died from contaminated blood has accused the Government of offering victims “means-tested scraps” as a new inquiry gets under way.

Jason Evans, whose father died in 1993 having contracted hepatitis and HIV, said the Government had failed to accept responsibility for the scandal and was now attempting damage limitation by offering victims more money.

Contaminated Blood Scandal
Jason Evans, whose father was a victim of the contaminated blood scandal (Cathy Gordon/PA)

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C via contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Infected Blood Inquiry will start taking evidence in central London on Tuesday.

Two previous inquiries have been branded a whitewash by campaigners.

Mr Evans, who runs the Factor 8 campaign group, said a new offer from the Government would equate to less than £900 per person.

He said the Government had failed “once again to accept its liability” in the scandal.

He added: “In a blatant attempt of damage limitation, the Government has today announced a derisory offer of subsistence to some victims on the very day that the Infected Blood Inquiry begins hearing testimony from those infected and affected.

“If the figures in the Department of Health’s own 2016 report are to be believed, the supposed increase today equates to less than £900 per person infected.

“We also note with interest that the health minister has stated she has committed ‘up to’ this figure, meaning the reality could in fact be far less than the shameful amount announced.

“Today’s announcement is not welcome. People are sick and dying, families are dealing with severe bereavement but the Government refuses to accept its clear liability and pay compensation.”

He said the Government was offering “means-tested scraps”, adding: “These begging bowls are available only to those who meet certain requirements and exclude many of those affected.

“If the Government truly wants to do the right thing they will provide a statement accepting their liability now.

“Our members will be bitterly disappointed with the Government’s insulting actions today that attempt to overshadow an important day for the victims at the inquiry and represent virtually no change for most of those impacted by the contaminated blood scandal.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said regular annual payments for some of those infected would now “substantially increase”, from a total pot of £46 million to £75 million.

It said more bereaved partners of victims will also be eligible for support.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The contaminated blood scandal was a tragedy that should never have happened and has caused unimaginable pain and hurt for victims and their families for decades.

“I know this will be a difficult time for victims and their families – but today will begin a journey which will be dedicated to getting to the truth of what happened and in delivering justice to everyone involved.”

The funding increase “follows extensive consultation with those affected and a recognition of the disparities that have existed across the schemes”, the DHSC added.

The Infected Blood Inquiry will hear from victims at the hearing in Fleetbank House, central London, before similar testimonies take place over the coming months in Belfast, Leeds, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

The inquiry is being chaired by former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff.

Des Collins, senior partner of Collins Solicitors, which represents Mr Evans and more than 1,000 victims and their families, said: “For those infected by contaminated blood products, and those who have family and friends affected by them, this is an incredibly important day.

“For many, many years it didn’t look as if this moment would ever come: the public hearings at the public inquiry offer a chance for many people to stand up, to tell their story and be heard.

“We acknowledge that the Government has finally proposed increases to the long-running issue of support payments to some of the victims and their families affected – in England – by contaminated blood products.

“However, the increase in the payments heralded today by the Government is minuscule in real terms for those whose health has suffered so significantly, for so long.

“These payments provide a minimal level of support and I fear that the increase announced today will do little to help offset the challenges that many people are facing.

“It also seems a missed opportunity to make the system simpler and fairer for applicants who have to date been virtually excluded from any ongoing support, particularly for bereaved spouses and partners who now ‘could be eligible’ via ongoing ‘means-tested discretionary top-up payments’.”

“Furthermore, they bring us no closer to a fair and final resolution. These payments should not seen as any form of compensation.

“The Government has denied compensation to the victims since the scandal emerged and continues to maintain this position.”

Many contaminated blood victims had haemophilia, a blood-clotting disorder, and relied on regular injections of clotting agent Factor VIII, which was made from pooling human blood plasma.

Britain was running low on supplies of Factor VIII so imported products from the US, where prison inmates and others were paid cash for giving blood.

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