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No limit for victim compensation budget for infected blood scandal

No limit for victim compensation budget for infected blood scandal
By Beth Gault
21 May 2024

Victims of the infected blood scandal are to receive compensation from the government through a new scheme set up today.

The compensation has ‘no restrictions’ on its budget but will start by offering interim payments of £210,000 to victims within 90 days, according to cabinet office minister John Glen.

It follows an inquiry into the scandal, which this week published its report concluding that there was evidence of a cover up and wrongdoing on a ‘systemic level’.

Speaking to parliament, Mr Glen, paymaster general, outlined that the infected blood compensation authority would administer the compensation scheme but that there would be no limit on the budget for this. He said: ‘Where we need to pay, we will pay.’

In a letter to the cabinet office yesterday (20 May), chair of the inquiry into the scandal, Sir Brian Langstaff, said: ‘It will be astonishing to anyone who reads the report that these events could have happened in the UK. It will also be surprising that questions asking why so many deaths and infections occurred, have not had answers before now.

‘Those answers cannot be as complete as they might have been thirty years ago but I have no doubt that the conclusion that wrongs were done on individual, collective and systemic levels is fully justified by the report.’

The inquiry looked at the scandal in which 30,000 patients with blood disorders were given infected blood within the NHS between 1970 and 1998. Around 1,250 of these were infected with HIV, with 380 of these being children. There were 26,800  patients infected with Hepatitis C through blood transfusions, with 22,000 of these chronically infected.

Some were also infected with Hepatitis B, but there is ‘insufficient evidence to estimate the numbers’, according to the report.

Around 3,000 deaths can be attributed to the infected blood, blood products and tissue, according to the inquiry’s report.

Cover up

Alongside the initial failings of the NHS which led to ‘needlessly’ infecting patients with HIV and Hep C, the report concluded that there was a cover up by the NHS and government following the scandal.

It said this was not in an ‘orchestrated conspiracy to mislead’, but in a way that was ‘subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications’, to save face and expense.

This cover up included deliberate destruction of documents, failure to acknowledge that patients should not have been infected and a lack of openness by the NHS and government so that the truth ‘has been hidden for decades’.

Those affected were also not given psychological support, there was difficulty and delays in accessing specialist treatment, and a failure of palliative care for those dying as a consequence of infection.

The report said: ‘This failure to bring the true facts to life has come partly from the inertia of groupthink; but partly, it must be recognised from instinctive defensiveness, to save face and to save expense. When thousands of families had their lives irrevocably changed, though, it should not have taken decades for the truth to come out. That is a collective failing of successive governments.

‘This report has found that there was deliberate destruction of documents of relevance. It has found that the Self-Sufficiency Report published in 2006 was self-justifying and that its redrafting had the effect of hiding significant information.

‘It has found that over decades successive governments repeated lines to take that were inaccurate, defensive and misleading. Its persistent refusal to hold a public inquiry, coupled with a defensive mindset that refused to countenance that wrong had been done, left people without answers, and without justice. This has also meant that many people who are chronically ill have felt obliged to devote their time and their energies to investigating and campaigning, often at great personal cost.’

Shame for the NHS

Responding to the inquiry’s report, Professor Philip Banfield, BMA chair of council, said the BMA would consider it in detail and ‘reflect on the implications’ for the profession.

‘Ultimately, all parties must take into account the recommendations to ensure nothing as tragic can happen in our health service ever again, at a point when we are still facing the same poor practice and secrecy when concerns are raised about patient safety,’ he said.

‘This is a day to welcome the much overdue transparency and the need to not hide truth from patients, but it is also a day of shame for the NHS, because it has failed to do what it should – to help, not harm, people,’ he added.

‘There is no doubt that thousands of patients were failed, and families put through unimaginable distress, and for that, all those involved need to apologise. Simply put, this should never have happened, but when it did, those involved should have been unequivocally candid in their response.’

Government ‘sorry’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak yesterday apologised for the scandal in parliament. He said: ‘This is an apology from the state – to every single person impacted by this scandal. It did not have to be this way; it should never have been this way. And on behalf of this and every government stretching back to the 1970s, I am truly sorry.’

Mr Glen reiterated this apology in parliament today and outlined that compensation would be made available to those affected, including family of those infected, through the infected blood compensation authority.

Victims were granted £100,000 in interim payments in August 2022, following the publication of the inquiry’s first interim report the month before.

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