Campaigners have given a cautious welcome to news that payments for some of those affected by the contaminated blood scandal will be increased.
The Government has announced it is resolving disparities in financial support between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as addressing broader issues, such as support for bereaved partners.
The contaminated blood scandal has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, leaving thousands of patients infected with hepatitis and HIV, and causing many early deaths.
Most of those involved had the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia and relied on regular injections of the blood product Factor VIII to survive.
These patients were unaware they were receiving contaminated Factor VIII and, despite repeated warnings at the top of government, continued to be given the product throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
In an announcement on Thursday, the Government said it was making UK-wide changes, with any increases in annual payments backdated to April 2019.
It said the key elements of change for the England Infected Blood Support Scheme are:
– Annual payments for bereaved partners will be increased to an automatic 100% of their partner’s annual payment in year one, and 75% in year two and subsequent years, in line with the position in Scotland;
– The lump sum bereavement payment will move from a discretionary £10,000 to an automatic £10,000, in line with the position in Wales;
– The lump sum payment paid to a beneficiary in the scheme with hepatitis C stage one will increase by £30,000 from £20,000 to £50,000, in line with the position in Scotland;
– The lump sum payment paid to a beneficiary in the scheme with HIV will increase from up to £80,500 maximum in England, to an automatic £80,500.
In Scotland, the changes will see an increase in annual payments for infected beneficiaries and bereaved partners, and to introduce £10,000 lump sum bereavement payments for the families of those who have died since the scheme began.
In Wales, annual payments will rise for infected beneficiaries, there will be an increase to both the payments and length of payments for bereaved partners, and changes to the lump sums for hepatitis C and HIV.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the changes are to annual payments for non-infected bereaved spouses/partners, lump sum bereavement payments, and a commitment to introduce enhanced financial support for hepatitis C.
Des Collins, senior partner at Collins Solicitors and legal adviser to more than 1,500 people affected by the scandal, said: “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction.
“Whilst an uplift to the existing financial support provision, which provides short-term help to ease the suffering of the infected and affected, is welcomed, it regrettably still does not include everyone affected, such as parents of children who have died, or children who have lost parents as a result of this scandal.
“Regarding the compensation framework, we shall be making robust representations to the independent reviewer, as the consultation will only achieve its aim if the infected and affected are, with expert guidance, able to play a full part in the process.
“The Government owes that to those who are still alive yet suffering after 40 years, and by way of demonstrating respect to those whose lives were prematurely ended at the hands of the state.
“We expect the compensation consultation to have been completed and the framework agreed in principle by the time the Infected Blood Inquiry reports next summer so that there can be no delay in implementing Sir Brian Langstaff’s recommendations.”