Compensation for infected blood scandal victims not ‘kicked into long grass’, Minister
The Government is not trying to kick compensation payments for victims impacted by the infected blood scandal into the “long grass”, the Paymaster General has said.
Jeremy Quin (pictured) told the official inquiry on Tuesday he is determined to set out “redress” amid anger over fears delays are because compensation is deemed too expensive and complicated.
The minister insisted there is a “determination to get this resolved” and confirmed he will await the inquiry’s final report, expected in the autumn, before announcing a plan.
Mr Quin acknowledged affected communities have a “huge amount of scepticism and cynicism for very understandable reasons” about how governments have acted.
The Infected Blood Inquiry was set up in 2017 to investigate the infection of thousands of patients with HIV and hepatitis C with contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
Around 2,900 people died in what has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.
Mr Quin said he is “aware of the number of people who are dying” while awaiting full payments after an initial scheme of interim payments was set out.
He acknowledged there is a “moral case here for compensation to be paid” but said “no decisions have been taken” on the full scheme.
“I’ve got no doubt that compensation will be paid.
“The form and shape of that compensation are decisions that have to be made,” the minister added.
Inquiry counsel Jenni Richards KC said that over three months after the inquiry’s recommendation for compensation there are still “no closer to knowing what the Government intends to do”.
Grilling the minister, she said: “Many of those infected and affected are concerned that the Government in full knowledge that people are dying … are kicking the question of compensation off into the long grass.
“Can you confirm, Mr Quin, that the Government is not dragging its feet on the basis it’s too expensive or too complicated and it’s not kicking it off into the long grass?”
Mr Quin replied: “I’ve not seen any evidence that there is a view in Government to kick this into the long grass.
“There’s a determination to get this resolved.
“We want to get this resolved and we want to get redress for those who have suffered so much, absolutely the case.”
He said it is “difficult to formulate and conclude a response” but insisted he is “absolutely determined that we do create a fair and equitable settlement”.
Inquiry chairman Sir Brian Langstaff has said that an interim compensation scheme should be widened so more people, including orphaned children and parents who lost children, could be compensated.
Sir Brian said in April that he was taking the unusual step of publishing the recommendation ahead of the publication of the full report into the scandal in the autumn so that victims would not face any more delays.
Under the initial scheme, victims themselves, or bereaved partners, can receive an interim payment of about £100,000.
The inquiry has recommended the Government establish an arms-length compensation body now and definitely before the final report in the autumn.
The second interim report of the inquiry also recommended that “steps should be taken without delay to provide a bespoke psychological support service in England”.
Shona Dunn, second permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, told the inquiry that officials were “advanced in terms of what a service could look like” and that research on the topic, commissioned by the department, would be published in August.
“My expectation is that research will be published in the first or second week of August,” she said.
“That research has looked at both the existing services, the experiences of the infected and the affected, the experiences of the clinicians offering the services that are out there at the moment and what more or different is required.
“We are advanced in terms of what a service could look like.”
Ms Dunn was also asked about perceived “institutional resistance on the part of civil servants within the Department of Health” and the role of the department in the government’s consideration of compensation.
“The department feels quite acutely the evident lack of trust and fear about the approach that the department will take on these matters from the infected and affected and that has driven it, and I think rightly, to be very respectful of the decision that was taken.”
She added: “I have witnessed nothing but officials trying to do their very best, most professional role as fast as they can.
“I am seeing on a daily basis every effort among officials and ministers to bring matters to a resolution as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile she was asked about a note from health minister Maria Caulfield which states: “Just to confirm the Government will not be waiting for the final report before responding and will respond to Sir Brian’s recent recommendations as soon as possible. With all good wishes, Maria.”
But Ms Dunn said that the note was sent in error by someone who works in Ms Caufield’s consistency office.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will give evidence to the inquiry on Wednesday and Chancellor and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt is due to appear on Friday.
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