Government ‘working at a snail’s pace’ over infected blood payments
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The Government has been “working at a snail’s pace” on the infected blood scandal and “will be on the wrong side of history” for holding out against a new compensation body, it has been claimed.
Clive Smith, chairman of the Haemophilia Society, said that an extended compensation scheme for victims and their families could have been set up by the end of this year with “political will”.
But so far campaigners have only received “warm words”, he said.
Meanwhile the charity’s chief executive, Kate Burt, said that the Government’s “delaying tactics denigrate the community that have suffered so much over such a long period of time”.
We keep hearing the refrain ‘we’re working at pace’. The only conclusion we can come to is they are working at snail’s pace
In April, chairman of the inquiry into the scandal Sir Brian Langstaff, said that more people who lost loved ones during the “biggest treatment disaster in the NHS” should be entitled to compensation.
Under the initial scheme only victims themselves or bereaved partners can receive an interim payment.
But Sir Brian said that family members – including parents who lost children and children orphaned when their parents died – remain “unrecognised” when it comes to compensation.
The comments were made ahead of the publication of the final report of the Infected Blood Inquiry, with Sir Brian saying he felt compelled to act so that victims would not face any more delays.
But the Government said that it wanted to wait for the full report into the scandal before considering whether to extend the compensation scheme.
The final report is expected in the spring of 2024.
However on Monday, MPs voted to speed up compensation for victims.
A total of 22 Conservative MPs rebelled to support a Labour-led amendment requiring ministers to establish a body to administer the full compensation scheme within three months of the Victims and Prisoners Bill becoming law.
It is the first defeat Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has had in the Commons.
Downing Street would not confirm whether the Government would honour the Commons vote on infected blood compensation, saying there would be an update in the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will update on next steps and the Government’s work on the inquiry in the coming weeks.”
He added: “First and foremost, we have accepted the moral case for compensation and acknowledge justice needs to be delivered for victims.
“This was an appalling tragedy. We certainly understand the strength of feeling.”
Commenting on the vote, Mr Smith told the Today programme: “This has never been about politics. This has always been about justice and doing the right thing, and no government should hold out on this.
“They’ve been told by the chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry Sir Brian Langstaff that with political will this should have been set up by the end of the year, and all we’ve heard consistently from Government is warm words.
“We keep hearing the refrain ‘we’re working at pace’. The only conclusion we can come to is they are working at snail’s pace.
“They have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do this, and Rishi Sunak and the Tory Party, I’m afraid, will be on the wrong side of history and future because it shouldn’t have needed to come to this.”
Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ms Burt described speaking to a bereaved father, known only as John, who had two sons with haemophilia – a bleeding disorder in which the blood does not clot properly – who both died from HIV after being treated with an infected blood product.
“Sir Brian delivered his final report on compensation on April 5, so the Government continuing to say ‘we need the final inquiry report in March before we can set up the compensation framework’ was just another example of official procrastination, delaying tactics which denigrate the community that have suffered so much over such a long period of time,” she told the PA news agency.
She said the infected blood community have been “let down so many times by so many official organisations”, and said there is “still a lot of work to do” but called the vote in the Commons a “significant win”.
Ms Burt added: “Sir Brian Langstaff has shown enormous empathy and understanding for what people have gone through and the suffering that they’ve had – not just those 4,800 people with haemophilia that were infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses, but their their families and their friends: children lost parents; parents lost children; siblings lost brothers and sisters; partners were lost; wives were infected.
“The scale of this tragedy is enormous and then the subsequent cover up – which was described as ‘a cover up on an industrial scale’ by Sir Brian – has just compounded the hurt that was done by the original infections.
“It was World AIDS Day on Friday and we had a vigil and I met there John who had two boys, both had haemophilia, both were infected with HIV and died aged 23 and 27 within five months of each other, so no compensation is ever going to fill the void for John, but at least truth and justice and recognition will be a huge step forward.”
Des Collins, senior partner of Collins Solicitors, which represents some 1,500 victims and their families, added: “The Government has finally been forced to agree to act – both to deliver on establishing a body to oversee proper compensation for victims and their families and to respond swiftly to the much-anticipated final report due from Sir Brian Langstaff’s inquiry next March.
“On the face of it the Government is now committed to meeting its long-overdue responsibilities.
“Let’s only hope there is no more obfuscation or creative delay tactics when the Government announces its promised next steps.”