Diana Johnson MP: We cannot wait until the conclusions of the infected blood inquiry to provide proper financial support to those affected
As the public enquiry into the infected blood scandal starts today, Diana Johnson MP writes for PoliticsHome about the need for the government to ease the burden and stress on those infected and their families.
Blood is clearly essential to sustaining life. When medical access to blood and blood products is compromised the consequences are horrific for patients.
In the 1970s and 1980s in the bleeding disorder community, mainly haemophiliacs, who depended on blood products to help with clotting, were treated with infected blood often bought from prisoners in the USA. This also happened to some individuals who needed transfusions perhaps in childbirth or after routine surgery.
This infected blood scandal has devasted thousands of individuals’ lives. It has been described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.
Many people who received infected blood went on to contract Hepatitis C or HIV - or both. Living with these diseases and the stigma attached to them has been traumatic for everyone affected. Careers had to be abandoned, personal relationships were cut short, there has been no ability to plan ahead for the future, to obtain a mortgage, obtain life or travel insurance or save for a pension.
Thousands have already died and one common refrain I have heard many times as I campaigned on this issue is that the government just want all those infected to die - for this problem to go away with as little fuss as possible.
There has never been any admission of liability from the NHS or the government for what happened, unlike in other countries. In France, government ministers were imprisoned for their part in the scandal. Full compensation was paid in Ireland before liability was admitted.
In the UK a patchwork of limited and often means-tested financial support was established to help individuals and their families whose lives had been so impacted by this scandal. Successive governments, advised by the Department of Health, took the view that there was no wrong or flawed decision-making and no need to pay compensation.
It took decades of campaigning by many to even get an apology, which happened in 2015, from Prime Minister David Cameron.
In July 2017, a newly elected Tory government didn’t have a majority in Parliament. It was spooked by a letter signed by all Westminster Opposition Leaders, including the DUP, demanding a proper inquiry. With an emergency debate scheduled and the threat of a vote in Parliament, a full, independent public inquiry was finally announced by Downing Street.
After further delays, as we fought to have the Department of Health removed as the sponsoring department, and a delay getting a Chair for the inquiry, it finally opened in September 2018. Today (30 April) the inquiry will begin hearing the oral testimony from those infected.
This is the largest public inquiry ever undertaken in this country, with over 1,700 core participants, covering all regions and all corners of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am delighted that this inquiry is now up and running and hope that it will have all the resources it requires over the coming months and years as the magnitude of this scandal – and the efforts to cover it up - unfolds.
In the meantime, we still fight for proper financial support for all those infected. This cannot wait for the conclusion of the inquiry.
Due to devolution we now have different support schemes operating in the different nations of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. This is a ridiculous and inequitable situation - people were all infected by the same UK NHS. After the personal intervention of the Chair of the Inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, the Government have agreed to review the financial support on offer and were due to report back before the inquiry started its hearing this week.
There is also the ongoing issue of many of those infected who are now having to jump through hoops under post-2010 welfare reforms. Surely anyone infected in this scandal should be automatically passported onto benefits like PIP? They are only in this position because of harm caused by the state.
In Ireland those infected also receive priority treatment in their health-care system. These are all ‘quick wins’ our government could announce this week. It would go some way to ease the burden and stress on those infected and their families.
It’s the least we owe them.
Diana Johnson, MP for Hull North, is Chair of the APPG on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood