It is inevitable that the UK Government will need to compensate those affected by the infected blood scandal, an MSP has told an inquiry.
Thousands of patients across the UK were infected with HIV and hepatitis C via contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
About 2,400 people died in what has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS – and is now the subject of the Infected Blood Inquiry.
Mairi Gougeon remotely gave evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday as the Scottish Government’s current Public Health Minister, however new appointments are to be confirmed this week.
Lead counsel Jenni Richards QC asked the MSP, “as minister in the Scottish Government, do you share the view expressed by the paymaster general that it is inevitable that the (UK) Government will need to provide substantial compensation to these infected and affected?”
Speaking from St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh, she simply replied: “Yes.”
Ms Richards added if the Scottish Government was “committed, from its perspective, to doing everything it possibly can to ensure that this is achieved”.
Ms Gougeon said: “I know there’ll be the review into that, that’s also been laid out by the paymaster general in another letter, so I think we would have to look at the recommendations of that and the recommendations of the inquiry – as working with the other four nations in relation to that, too.
“Although discussions would have to take place – and, again, I can’t commit that for another minister who would come into the post – but we would have to take that into serious consideration.
“I personally haven’t had any discussions with my counterparts in the UK Government in relation to that. I guess it would really depend what comes out of that review essentially.”
Samantha Baker, team leader of the Infected Blood Team in the Scottish Government’s Health Protection Division, also gave evidence remotely from a separate room in St Andrew’s House.
Ms Richards highlighted “fairly significant differences between the types of payments and the amounts of payment made between the four nations” since they were all set up four years ago.
Payments are currently made to those infected and affected through the Scottish Infected Blood Support (Sibs) scheme which was set up in April 2017 – with agreement sought to reduce the disparities in March 2021 as a result of the inquiry’s findings.
Martin Bell, NHS National Services Scotland director of primary care and counter fraud services, is a director of the scheme and told the inquiry it has 546 beneficiaries (or members).
Ms Richards asked Ms Baker: “Would it be fair to say that the issue of parity has not been regarded by the Scottish Government as a particularly pressing issue previously?”
She replied: “Yes, I think so. The position on parity has certainly evolved.
“I think the principles are still the same that the Scottish Government has wanted to maintain some flexibility but, at the same time, to try and increase parity between the schemes as much as possible.”
Ms Gougeon added: “From the perspective of people who are beneficiaries of the scheme and to see big differences in other schemes across the UK, I do think it’s really important in Scotland that we maintain the Scottish scheme that’s flexible to the needs of people here and can respond quite quickly to that if there were any changes that needed to be made.
“I think maintaining that is quite important but I think particularly from a beneficiaries perspective that could be frustrating to see, particularly in the areas where there are quite a stark contrast in the differences in payments.”
Mr Bell also said Sibs payments should not be considered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when carrying out their assessments.
However, when inquiry counsel Katie Scott asked if “it is right to understand that the DWP have told Sibs that the members must declare their payments to the DWP to avoid being called in for an interview for fraud when data matching exercises are carried out”, Mr Bell agreed that was correct.
The inquiry, before chairman Sir Brian Langstaff, continues on Wednesday.