Questions raised as expert appointed to advise on infected blood compensation

Concerns have been raised about the expert appointed to advise the Government on compensation for victims of the contaminated blood scandal.

Cabinet Office minister John Glen announced on Thursday that Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery has been appointed as chair of a group of clinical, legal and social care experts to give “technical advice on compensation”.

But families affected by the scandal – widely deemed to be the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS – raised concerns about Sir Jonathan’s role at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where he has been chairman since 2019, and his membership of Bayer’s bioethics council.

But the Government said Sir Jonathan “ceased to be a member of the Bayer Bioethics Council” last year.

The Factor 8 campaign group said: “The Oxford NHS Trust is at the heart of the infected blood scandal and Bayer manufactured and supplied much of the HCV (hepatitis C virus) and HIV infected Factor VIII products to the UK during the 1980s.”

Its director, Jason Evans, said the group was worried that ministers were “seeking to water down” the Infected Blood Inquiry’s recommendations on compensation.

The inquiry, which is due to publish its final report in May, has already made its final recommendations on compensation for victims and their loved ones. And Sir Robert Francis KC has also published a compensation framework study.

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Government has previously been accused of dragging its feet over compensation and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was heckled when he appeared before the inquiry last year as he vowed to pay compensation “as swiftly as possible”.

In a written ministerial statement to the House of Commons, Mr Glen said: “Ensuring the victims of the infected blood scandal receive the justice and recognition they deserve remains my top priority and I look forward to working with Sir Jonathan and the expert advisory group to ensure that the Government has the relevant expertise to make informed choices in responding to the inquiry’s recommendations on compensation.”

Mr Glen added that he has been “reassured that the group is working as quickly as possible to advise the Government in responding to the inquiry’s recommendations following the publication of the final report”.

Commenting on the appointment, Mr Evans said: “We are confused at to why the Government has appointed the chair of Oxford NHS Trust and Bayer (bioethics) council member, Sir Jonathan Montgomery, to provide the Government with advice on compensation when a detailed framework was presented to the Government by Sir Robert Francis KC almost two years ago.

“Sir Robert’s framework and advice, which was welcomed by our community and endorsed by the Infected Blood Inquiry in its final compensation recommendations, has gone ignored by Government all this time.

“Naturally, our community is concerned that the Government are seeking to water down the inquiry’s final compensation recommendations.

“The Oxford NHS Trust is at the heart of the infected blood scandal and Bayer manufactured and supplied much of the HCV (hepatitis C virus) and HIV infected Factor VIII products to the UK during the 1980s.”

Clive Smith (pictured), chairman of the Haemophilia Society, added: “This announcement, which was made without any consultation with the infected blood community, raises more questions than it answers.

“We do not know which experts are on Professor Montgomery’s team, nor has their appointment process been publicised. We do not know the panel’s remit or whether their advice will ever find its way into the public domain.

“It is not clear whether they will help move forward the long-overdue compensation process or be another obstacle to achieving it.

“We recognise the concerns of many in our community about Professor Montgomery’s links with the pharmaceutical company Bayer. No expert with direct links to one of companies responsible for producing contaminated blood products would ever have the confidence of the contaminated blood community.

“There are already two detailed reports about compensation to guide the Government. One, by Sir Robert Francis, was commissioned by the Government itself and the other, by Sir Brian Langstaff, is the result of years of investigation by the Infected Blood Inquiry. We are not clear what further wisdom the Government’s expert panel will bring to this process.

“The work on the detail of the compensation scheme should be done by an independent arm’s length body for compensation not by the Cabinet Office, as recommended by both reports.”

According to the Bayer website, its bioethics council is “an external advisory body consisting of independent experts” to advise on “bioethical questions relating to emerging Life Science technologies”.

A Government spokesperson said: “Sir Jonathan is an experienced healthcare law scholar who has played a leading role in UK public bioethics.

“Last year he ceased to be a member of the Bayer Bioethics Council, which is an independent advisory body that is distinct from the operational business of Bayer.”

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