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£130m payout to contaminated blood victims
The government has announced a substantially increased financial package of £130m to be awarded to people who contracted Hepatitis C as a direct result of receiving NHS supplied contaminated blood products in the 1970s and '80s.
Around 4,670 mostly haemophiliac patients were infected with Hepatitis C with 1,243 also contracting HIV in what has been branded by Lord Winston as 'the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.' To date, nearly 2000 people have died as a result of receiving the contaminated NHS supplied blood or blood products procured at the time in part from high risk donors such as prison inmates in the United States.
Vijay Mehan of Fentons Solicitors LLP, who acted as secretariat for The Independent Public Inquiry into Contaminated Blood and Blood Products, chaired by The Rt Hon Lord Archer of Sandwell QC, said: "For far too long now, haemophilia patients who contracted Hepatitis C have received little recompense or support for an illness caused through no fault of their own.
"The tragic consequences of the treatments so many people received decades ago have hugely impaired their lives and the lives of their families. This announcement is a welcome step towards ironing out discrepancies and making the financial support available to Hepatitis C patients fairer especially by removing the arbitrary date for widows to be able to claim."
The two-year privately-funded Archer Inquiry reviewed evidence and investigated the circumstances surrounding the supply of contaminated blood procured by the NHS from American commercial suppliers that led to the infections and subsequent deaths of thousands of haemophilia patients. The Inquiry concluded that commercial interests had taken precedence over public health and reliance on American commercial suppliers of blood products had resulted in disastrous consequences. Recommendations included the provision of financial assistance for those prevented from working and guarantees that victims receive insurance and benefits not freely available on the NHS, such as free prescription drugs, counselling and home nursing.
The announcement by The Secretary of State for Health, the Rt. Hon Andrew Lansley MP, follows a long-awaited three-month independent review of the support available to individuals infected with Hepatitis C and/or HIV, and also to their dependants. Currently, patients with Hepatitis C - which can cause both liver damage and cancer - are eligible for a one-off payment of £20,000. If they then go on to develop more advanced conditions such as cirrhosis or liver cancer they can claim a further payment of £25,000.
The new arrangement offers increased compensation to those whose hepatitis C infection progresses to a more advanced condition with patients receiving an annual payment of £12,800 plus free prescriptions. Those with severe diseases who have already been awarded a lump sum will have it doubled from £25,000 to £50,000. Discretionary payments will be awarded to those deemed most in need and a £300,000 fund has been earmarked to provide counselling for those affected over the next three years. For the first time, posthumous payments will be made to the families of victims who died before August 29th 2003.
"For decades now, thousands of people have been campaigning for fair settlement," said Vijay, an associate with the firm who bore the administrative burden of the Archer Inquiry. "Lord Archer recommended much greater generosity from the government and it was hoped the coalition would deliver closure to those affected. Although an increase in damages is of course welcome, there are many campaign groups, such as 'Tainted Blood,' who believe the government has missed a huge opportunity and that this is again, nothing more than a token gesture made to only some of the thousands affected."
Much to the regret of campaigners, in a move that has saved the government £3bn, victims will still not receive the same levels of compensation as received by victims in the Republic of Ireland after the government ruled such a move would be too expensive.
"The new measures only apply to those affected in England and ignore those who were infected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland," said Vijay. "Those who were infected are now dying at a rate of one a month and it is no surprise that many campaigners are feeling bitterly disappointed, claiming their once raised hopes have been dashed at news that the announced levels of financial support do not go far enough and only a limited number of people will be eligible. In addition, the NHS applied to all UK haemophilia patients so a postcode lottery for additional payments is really quite unacceptable. I hope the devolved governments at the very least meet the proposals made by the RT Hon Andrew Lansley MP."
Campaign groups have vowed to continue their calls for proper and full compensation with renewed vigour believing the government has limited its financial responsibility by excluding a huge number of people as well as making no provision for on-going payments to widows and child dependants of those affected.
"In an effort to restore people to health the NHS inadvertently consigned them to lives of debilitating illness and suffering," said Vijay. "The latest government announcements cannot remove the damage and distress caused to those individuals and families over the years but whilst a more generous settlement would naturally have been preferred, this is at least a significant step in the right direction in delivering justice to those let down by the actions of successive governments."
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