Ministers accept three-month deadline for blood scheme

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Campaigners for a compensation scheme gathered in London earlier this year
By Jim Reed
Health reporter

A final compensation scheme for infected blood victims could be running by the year’s end after the government made a key concession in the Lords.

Ministers accepted a Labour amendment to the Victims and Prisoners bill, meaning the scheme must be set up within three months of the law passing.

The deputy Lords leader said victims had waited “far too long for justice”.

But Earl Howe warned the creation of the new body could be disrupted if Parliament were dissolved or adjourned.

Westminster is due to rise at the end of July for the summer recess, and a general election is widely expected to take place this autumn.

‘Worst treatment disaster’

More than 30,000 NHS patients were given contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 80s in what has been called the worst treatment disaster in the history of the health service.

It is thought around 3,000 later died, after contracting HIV or hepatitis C from a treatment made from blood plasma or a blood transfusion.

The government has said there is a moral case for compensating victims and, in November 2022, made the first interim payments of £100,000 each to around 4,000 surviving victims and bereaved partners.

Campaigners say the speed compensation is paid out is crucial. It has been estimated that one person infected by the contaminated treatments dies every four days.

In April 2023, the chair of the ongoing public inquiry into the scandal, Sir Brian Langstaff, called for a full compensation scheme to be set up immediately. He also recommended interim payments should be extended to some of the children and parents of those who had died.

In December 2023, opposition MPs and Conservative rebels forced through a key vote in the Commons designed to speed up the creation of a new body to administer and run the scheme, the first parliamentary defeat for Rishi Sunak as prime minister.

More recently the government has been accused of trying to “wriggle out” of the new time limit by proposing its own amendments to the legislation in the Lords.

Faced with the possibility of losing another vote, ministers agreed to a Labour-led demand for the final compensation system to be in place within three months of the Victims and Prisoners Bill becoming law.

Speaking at the bill’s report stage, the Conservative peer Lord Howe said: “The government shares the determination of the House to ensure compensation reaches victims quickly.”

He added: “We recognise that Parliament and the infected blood community need clarity on when these measures will be in place.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow minister without portfolio, said the decision marked “another important victory” for the victims of the scandal.

“The government has now been forced, under cross-party pressure, to set out a clear timetable to deliver a final compensation scheme,” he said.

“They must now progress – urgently – with getting the body ready to make payments.”

The public inquiry into the infected blood scandal has been running since 2018 and is expected to publish its final report and recommendations on 20 May.

2 April18 April

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