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Health: Haemophilia

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 9 October 2008

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare a non-pecuniary interest as president of the Haemophilia Society.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what review was undertaken of the extent and depth of deprivation in the haemophilia community before the decision was taken to cut the Haemophilia Society’s core grant by 70 per cent.

My Lords, the department is very much aware of the importance of the work of the Haemophilia Society. Indeed, we have funded the society for more than 10 years. In 2006, this funding provided 14 per cent of the society’s overall budget. However, Section 64 grants are not intended to be permanent sources of core funding for organisations, thus the tapered reduction over three years to 2010.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Is she aware that 1,757 haemophilia patients have now died in direct consequence of infection with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated NHS blood products in what my noble friend Lord Winston described as,

“the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service”?

Is she further aware that many are terminally ill, unable to work and uninsurable, except at prohibitive cost, while the widows of many of those who have died receive no compensatory help whatever? Finally, is she aware that the Haemophilia Society, which exists to support this stricken community, now faces closure as its core grant reduces from £100,000 to £30,000? I know that she will want to help all that she can.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work and commitment in this field over many years. In 2006-07 and the preceding eight years, the Haemophilia Society received £100,000 annually. This is now reducing over three years to £30,000 in 2010, so, this year, the society will receive £60,000. It is clear that the transition process from core funding is proving a problem for the Haemophilia Society. The department has provided for this event and will consider capacity-building requests for funding to develop more sustainable funding streams, generate income through trading activities and develop the capacity to work in partnership. We will also fund specific projects such as Young Bloods, which is a good example of how the society has secured funding to focus on the needs of children with bleeding disorders, amounting to £110,000 over three years. I am, however, happy to make a commitment to my noble friend to ensure that further discussions take place with the Haemophilia Society.

My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a vice-president of the Haemophilia Society. Is the Minister aware that one of the society’s campaigns focuses on blood safety? Is not safety in health one of the top priorities? Does she not consider the society to be a special case? We are talking not only about people with HIV and hepatitis C, but also about people with variant CJD. They really need support and help from their society.

My Lords, the department has absolutely no doubt that the Haemophilia Society is a very important organisation in supporting that community. The Government are certainly committed to supporting the society. We need to find a proper way of doing so that ensures that its work can develop and be sustained over a long period.

My Lords, I readily understand that Section 64 grants are not appropriate in this case and never have been. However, the Department of Health gives the impression of being awash with money. Can it not find some other source of funding for this very desirable objective?

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, the Government’s funding amounts to only 14 per cent of the Haemophilia Society’s budget. The organisation is very successful in raising funds from corporate and other charitable sources and from its trading activities. We are committed to helping it to make sure that those sources of funding are more sustainable and grow in the long term.

My Lords, it would be helpful if, in appreciating the importance of the third sector more generally, my noble friend could indicate whether the planned changes to the funding of the third and voluntary sectors will have a negative impact on the working relationships between those sectors and the directorate.

My Lords, that is an important question, as it affects not only the Haemophilia Society but a lot of voluntary organisations. The department is a major supporter of the voluntary and third sectors; indeed, £17.2 million goes to third sector organisations. The key change is that the Department of Health is committed to full cost recovery, which is what voluntary organisations have wanted for a long time. That means that third sector organisations can recover the appropriate amount of their core costs, proportionate to the activity that the department is funding. That in time will, as it should, reduce the need for organisations to have a dependency on core grants, which will add to their effective lobbying function, as it will make them more independent.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that over recent years there has been a big loss of community services? With those community services we have lost district nurses and health visitors, some of whom used to specialise in conditions such as haemophilia, sickle cell anaemia and diabetes—all those long-term conditions where patients need extra help and back-up. If funds are cut to voluntary organisations such as the Haemophilia Society, which has done such fantastic support work, how will she ensure that patients still get the support that they need?

My Lords, the Government are determined to ensure that people with haemophilia, for example, are increasingly well cared for and supported within their communities. We work closely with the Haemophilia Society and professional organisations to ensure that, for example, 24-hour counselling services are available. Those are provided through a mixture of statutory funding and voluntary commitment at a local level. Part of the commitment in the reorganisation is that more funding is available at a local level to provide exactly the services that the noble Baroness mentioned.