I beg to move,
That this House notes the Government’s recent announcement on the reform of the support schemes for people affected by contaminated blood and blood products; recognises that the contaminated blood scandal was one of the biggest treatment disasters in the history of the NHS; believes that those people affected should have a reasonable standard of living and not just be removed from poverty; is concerned that bereaved partners of people who died with HIV/AIDS and those reliant on regular top-up payments will be worse off; is concerned that the new payments for people infected with Hepatitis C are not commensurate with the pain and suffering caused; notes that people who were infected with other viruses, those who did not reach the chronic stage of Hepatitis C and bereaved parents are not mentioned in this announcement; and calls on the Government to use the funds from the sale of Plasma Resources UK to bring forward revised proposals that are properly funded and which provide appropriate support to all affected people.
I thank Members of the Backbench Business Committee, who, since the Committee was established, have always been very generous in recognising the importance of this issue to many of our constituents. This is the third Backbench Business debate that we have had on the subject.
It is more than 45 years since the first people were infected with HIV, hepatitis C and other viruses from NHS-supplied blood products. Their lives, and those of their families, were changed forever by this tragedy. The contaminated blood scandal is now rightly recognised as a grave injustice—the worst treatment disaster in the history of our country’s health service—but those affected are still waiting for a proper financial settlement that recognises the full effect that the scandal has had on them and on their families. This group of people have campaigned for far too many years for justice, at the same time as dealing with illness and disability.
The current financial support for those affected is simply not fit for purpose. That stark fact was laid bare in the inquiry of the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood in January 2015. This quote is on the first page of our report:
“You can’t give us back our health. But you can give us back our dignity. This tortured road has been too long for many of us. But for the rest of us, please let this be the final road to closure.”
Thankfully, we all now agree that the current support arrangements cannot continue, and that we need to create a scheme that gives this community back their dignity.
I welcome the efforts made by the former Prime Minister when he was in office. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), to her new post and I welcome Lord Prior of Brampton to his new position. I was happy to meet him last week, alongside other APPG members, to discuss the new support arrangements.
Although we are all agreed on the need for a reformed scheme, I cannot agree with the Department of Health that its proposed settlement is sufficient. The purpose of this debate is to highlight the aspects of the new support scheme that will not provide the support that these people need, following the hasty announcement made by the former Prime Minister as he left office in July 2016.
In my speech, I want to stress five key issues that the Department of Health urgently needs to address. The first issue concerns the differences between the country schemes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We need to know what support people in all four countries of the United Kingdom will get. While Scotland and England have set out their own separate support schemes, in Wales and especially in Northern Ireland people desperately need some certainty about the help they will receive.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate along with other right hon. and hon. Members. I have been in touch with the Minister for Health in Northern Ireland and there has been no progress on this matter. I and other hon. Members from Northern Ireland have constituents who have suffered from the ill effects of contaminated blood for over 45 years.
It is very worrying to hear that there has not been any progress on what is happening in Northern Ireland, so the Minister needs to explain to the House what work is going on.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being one of the leaders of this campaign. It is clear that the Scottish scheme is more generous than the one in England. Does she agree that at the very least the Government should ensure parity, and in particular that nobody should be worse off under the new scheme than they were under the old scheme?
My hon. Friend makes that point very well. Later I will compare and contrast the Scottish scheme, which is more generous.
The difference between the two schemes is important because hon. Members representing constituencies across the UK may have one constituent getting compensation under the English scheme and another getting compensation under the Scottish scheme, involving, as is currently the case, different amounts of money and different levels of compensation.
Yes; the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. One of the unintended consequences of devolution is that we are ending up with such a mishmash of schemes, and that is of concern for the people affected.
One of my constituents, Mr M, makes exactly that point: it is unfair that the Scottish settlement is so different from the settlement for him in Stratford-on-Avon. Most importantly, one of my constituents, who is in the Public Gallery, wants to remind the House that there are fewer than 300 primary beneficiaries left, and it is vital that they are not forgotten.
Absolutely. That is a very important point. I will come on to the primary beneficiaries in a while, but I will now make some progress.
My first concern was about the different schemes that are available. The second issue, which is also important, is that we know the five existing trusts will be amalgamated into a single body to administer the scheme at some point in 2017. I am deeply troubled by the fact that the administration of the new body looks likely to be done by a profit-making private company. I know that Atos and Capita have attended meetings with Department of Health officials about the new contract. Formal tender submissions will be due soon, with a decision on the contractor set to be made in 2017. No Health Minister has had the courtesy to tell the all-party group of these plans, nor were the beneficiaries asked for their views about this in the survey done in January. Even the Department’s response to the survey, which was published in July, made absolutely no mention of such a prospect. Alongside hon. Members on both sides of the House, I cannot support proposals to contract out provision to Atos or Capita.
Let me remind the House how many in this community were infected in the first place. Many contracted HIV and hepatitis C from American blood products supplied by profit-making private companies. The United States, unlike the UK, has always allowed the commercial purchase of blood products, and those products were often donated by people who desperately needed money and were willing to be less than honest about their chances of infection. This is the reason why so many in the affected community harbour such distrust of private companies.
I want to place on the record that I have been contacted by constituents in Dudley who have told me how grateful they are to my hon. Friend for the lead she has given and for the campaigning she has done on this issue. One constituent has written to me about allegations of impropriety in relation to doctors being encouraged by pharmaceutical companies to use plasma concentrates instead of cryoprecipitate in blood transfusions. Does she agree with my constituents that that should be investigated?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. That should certainly be investigated.
I return to people’s concerns about the use of private companies. We know that, over the past six years, there has been a huge sense of mistrust of the disability assessment regime operated by Atos before it walked away from its contract with the Department for Work and Pensions. If there is one thing that could fatally undermine progress towards a better support scheme, it is the plan that the new scheme be administered by a private company. I strongly urge the Government to look again at that plan and show empathy for the people affected.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her dogged and tireless work on this issue. Does she agree that there is a big issue of trust here, in relation not just to the potential new providers but to what happened previously? Some survivors and families who survive victims who have passed away believe that senior health professionals knew about the contamination but decided to continue with their interventions for cost reasons.
Yes. One point I will come to later is the need for some form of inquiry.
To continue my point about why who runs the scheme is so important, a big criticism of the new scheme is the continuation of discretionary payments. Department of Health officials are still not listening to the concerns raised about that. The APPG inquiry uncovered huge issues with the highly conditional and poorly managed discretionary support scheme. One respondent told us:
“The whole system seems designed to make you feel like a beggar”.
I also believe that the trust’s current administrators have not fought hard enough for their beneficiaries, which legally they could have done. Instead, they saw their role as dispassionate managers and conduits to the Department of Health. They left the affected community alone to fight for themselves. If the new support scheme ends up being managed by Atos or Capita it will do nothing to address those fundamental issues, and could even make the situation much worse, adding insult to injury. I call on the Minister to do the right thing and announce that she will scrap plans for a private profit-making scheme administrator, and will replace the current scheme with a more beneficiary run and focused organisation that has no profit motive.
Will the Minister set out exactly what kind of discretionary support the new scheme will provide? It remains unclear whether any or all of the current support will continue. That contrasts starkly with the Scottish scheme, where the financial review group agreed that no one should receive less financial support under the new scheme. Will the Government urgently provide the same guarantee and publish full details of any obligations that the new scheme administrators will be subject to?
There are also issues with the current welfare benefits reassessment regime that many people are having to go through—for example, moving from disability living allowance on to the personal independence payment. Those issues need to be addressed urgently, so that individuals can be passported straightaway on to new benefits. I hope the Minister will agree that that is a sensible way forward for the people affected.
My third concern relates to the families of those affected, who need better support under the scheme. Under the new English proposals, widows and widowers will continue to be eligible for discretionary support—whatever that means; I have raised my concerns about that already—on top of a new £10,000 lump sum, provided their loved ones died at least partially as a result of contracting HIV or hepatitis C. However, many clinicians have already told me that that could mean many people are excluded from assistance simply because their partner’s death certificate does not include mention of HIV or hepatitis C, sometimes at the family’s request. The new proposals could also still be considerably less generous than the support that some widows already receive, because there is a huge question mark hanging over what discretionary help they will get under the reformed scheme.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for leading this debate. Many people around the country are hugely grateful to her, me included. Two of my constituents—Mike Dorricott and Neil Howson—sadly passed away as a consequence of contaminated blood and the diseases that they contracted. Their loved ones have exactly the concern that the hon. Lady indicated: that the dependence on potential discretionary payments is insufficient. The fact that the one-off payment is not backed up by the generosity, regularity and dependability of an annual payment means that such people often have to give up work, lose the ability to have a pension of their own and find themselves in immense hardship.
That leads me to my next point, which is on the Scottish proposals. As we have heard, they offer a better settlement, particularly for the bereaved, who are guaranteed 75% of their partner’s previous entitlement in addition to continued access to the Scottish discretionary scheme. That gives them much-needed security in a way that the proposed English scheme does not. I ask the Minister to look again at adopting the Scottish model and at providing more guarantees on non-discretionary support for widows and widowers.
My fourth point is about support for primary beneficiaries, which was raised in an intervention. The APPG asks the Government to look again at some groups of primary beneficiaries who need better support than is proposed under the English scheme. I received an email this morning from someone who contracted hepatitis B through contaminated blood products. Under the scheme, they are not eligible for any help, but they have obviously suffered and are suffering still. I hope that the Minister is willing to look at a very small group of people who are not covered.
The APPG believes that if more assistance were provided in the form of non-discretionary, ongoing payments, it would reduce the need for discretionary support and allay a great deal of our constituents’ worries. I urge the Department of Health to consider the contrast with the support announced in the Scottish scheme and whether more non-discretionary, ongoing payments could be made.
I applaud the hon. Lady for bringing the debate to the House. Although I recognise that the new payments scheme is an improvement, I want to speak up for one of my constituents, who does not want to be named. He is among the 256 out of the 1,250 haemophiliacs who were infected with multiple viruses—those who were co-infected. Their lives have been devastated—absolutely blighted—and they feel that they are not being fairly treated under the new arrangement. Will she expand on whether we can help those people a little bit more?
I will come on to the ways in which I think the funding that the Government have put together could be used more effectively to assist more people who have been affected by receiving contaminated blood, including the hon. Lady’s constituent.
I will talk a little about the overall funding of the new scheme. There is much that the Government could do to improve the scheme without any additional cost to the public purse. Even if the Scottish proposals, particularly those for widows and primary beneficiaries, were adopted in England, they would fall within the budget that has been allocated for every year save 2016-17. That is set out in an analysis conducted by the Haemophilia Society, which was presented to the Department of Health at last week’s meeting. I hope officials will consider that carefully.
Any need for additional funding could easily be met from two identifiable sources. I think the £230 million from the sale of our 80% stake in Plasma Resources UK should be made available, as should any reserves left in the accounts of the three discretionary charities when they are closed in 2017. Further, I ask the Minister to promise that any money that is not spent on beneficiaries in each year will be rolled over to support beneficiaries in the next year. At last week’s meeting at the Department of Health, it appeared from what officials told us that any unspent money would have to be given back to the Treasury. That would be a gross act of betrayal towards those affected.
In conclusion, unless the Department of Health accepts that its new scheme still has substantial issues that need to be addressed, the new support scheme will not command the full confidence of the people it needs to satisfy. Indeed, in some crucial respects it will be worse than the system it replaces.
The APPG still believes that people should have the option of a lump sum payment as part of any new scheme, to give them the opportunity to decide for themselves what is best for them—either a regular payment or a one-off lump sum payment.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Why cannot lump sum payments be an alternative to regular payments? Why must the Government be grudging on these matters? This and previous Governments owe these people a huge debt of obligation. This should be a properly funded scheme and we should have a proper investigation to get to the truth of this terrible scandal, which is a stain on our country.
My hon. Friend puts the point very well. The APPG and the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) have spoken to people about what they want from the revised scheme, and they have said they want the option of a lump sum payment, if that would be better for them than regular payments. It is important that we give people the ability to make those decisions for themselves.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) just alluded to, the APPG still believes that we need a Hillsborough-style panel inquiry to allow people to tell their stories and to say what happened to them and how it affected them.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am happy to give way to my right hon. Friend, who has great knowledge on this point.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is making a very powerful case, as she always does, and I congratulate her on the way she is doing it. She is right about the potential of a Hillsborough-style inquiry—I note that the Prime Minister is a great fan of that process, and has said so previously—but we need to take care that such an inquiry does not put all the important and urgent issues she has raised into the shade while the process takes place. The two things need to be separate.
I agree with my right hon. Friend, who makes his point very well. We need to make sure that any new support scheme moves quickly. We need to get on with this. The previous Prime Minister, when he apologised on behalf of the nation 18 months ago, also allocated £25 million, but none of that has been spent yet, as I understand it. We need to make sure that a scheme is introduced as quickly as possible, although obviously with our concerns having being addressed. But absolutely the two things can run in parallel, and a Hillsborough-style panel inquiry would give people the opportunity of a truth and reconciliation inquiry. I still think it a key requirement if there is to be any real sense of justice and closure.
Families who have suffered a loss following this terrible scandal have expressed a desire to get hold of certain documents and to find out what happened and who knew what. They really just want a sense of justice.
I will now conclude. I know that in later speeches hon. Members will want to raise the deeply moving stories of their constituents. It is those stories that have led me to campaign on this issue over many years, and I am always mindful of the struggles faced by my constituent Glen Wilkinson. Glen was diagnosed with hepatitis C after a routine tooth operation in the 1980s, when he was just 19. He has had to live with the virus all his life and is still waiting for proper recognition of how it has affected him. I hope that the Minister and the Government will now work to ensure that Glen and others can live the rest of their lives in dignity.
Order. I am going to impose a 10-minute limit to start with, and then we will see how we get on.
I begin by congratulating my friend, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), on her consistency on this issue and the work that she and the all-party group have done over a long time. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to be held. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench. We know that this matter is not among her responsibilities—it belongs to our noble Friend Lord Prior—and I know how difficult it is to deal with something that is not in one’s own portfolio, but I am sure that she will communicate faithfully to the Government the points raised in the debate, although she will not be in a position, I think, to answer all our questions. However, the fact that we are again raising these questions in the Chamber is an important point for her to take back to the Secretary of State and other colleagues.
I want to pick up on a couple of points arising from the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North. I agree with her about who should administer the scheme. This is not an area in which we should be looking to outsource for ideological reasons. There is an important concern at the heart of this issue. Given everything that we have learned from the United States, we know that the profit motive involved in selling the blood in the first place was a primary source of everything that has happened since. It is really important that we recognise that and show some sensitivity to the fact. I actually think that Government can run some things, and it is good to run some things publicly. We have to choose. In our political lives, we have lived through the Government running British Telecom, British Airways and so on. Things have changed, but it is important that some things be publicly owned, run and dealt with, and this is one of them. I therefore join her absolutely in saying that the Government should think again about how the scheme is administered. They should keep it in public hands where there is at least some democratic accountability. Above all, as she said, we need a group that will act on behalf of the beneficiaries, rather than solely in the Government’s interest. It would have to be very carefully put together.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some really important points. Does he agree that one area in which the private sector could and should be playing a part is in contributing to the compensation? Is there not an analogy—an off-the-shelf scheme we could consider—in how the thalidomide victims were supported through a composite of public funding and funding from the drug companies responsible? Like the Scottish scheme, that system has introduced annual payments and allowed people struggling with conditions that they contracted because of thalidomide to have some security throughout their lives. The same could be afforded to the survivors or the loved ones of those who passed away because of contaminated blood.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will develop that point in his own speech. Of course, the thalidomide compensation was based on a clear line of accountability as the company admitted responsibility. The situation has not been quite the same in this case, for reasons that we all know, but perhaps I can come on to financial matters in a second. I will now move on from the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, the majority of which I supported wholeheartedly.
It is a matter of some despair that we are here again. I remember those friends who came to the public meetings in the House of Commons a couple of years ago saying they were actually sick of coming here as they had done so so often over the years. I would be grateful if the Minister could relay to the Government—I have not been able to get this point across—that this drip, drip approach over the years is just not working. The Government can find money at various times for some big affairs. If there is a natural disaster, a dramatic crisis or a banking collapse, vast sums suddenly appear. We have not been able to give this issue the same priority, but it cries out for it. That we are here again is proof that these concerns are not going away and cannot be dealt with drip by drip. Somebody has still not grasped the fact that, for the many reasons that I know colleagues will raise, a settlement is of the highest importance.
I will not rehearse the history, because colleagues indulged me when I raised it in a Back-Bench debate a couple of years ago, so I will not go into it at such great length again. Neither will I cite the accounts of individuals who have come to us because, frankly, I find it too difficult to read them into the record. I have done that before, but I am not able to do so again. Instead, I want to make a couple of personal points and three comments about where we might go from here.
I campaigned on this issue for many years—in government and in opposition; and when I was a Minister and not a Minister. I was pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned David Cameron, because his response to my contribution at Prime Minister’s questions in October 2013 began the current chain of events and continued the progress made over many years. I was grateful that he met me, a constituent and a dear friend of ours. He seemed to understand where we were going, and more money has come into the scheme, which I appreciate.
In June 2015, I was re-invited by the then Prime Minister to join the Government in the Department of Health, at which point I went quiet on campaigning as far as the public were concerned. I know that some people misinterpreted that. My position in the Department of Health was not conditional on the fact that I had been involved with contaminated blood, and neither was my positon in the Foreign Office or my decision to leave the Department of Health of my own accord earlier this year. However, the ministerial convention is clear: Ministers say only what the Government’s position is. We cannot have two colleagues firing away on the same issues, so I did indeed go quiet publicly for a period. Inside the Department, I made my representations to the then responsible Minister, and I want to put on record my appreciation for what my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) sought to do with the scheme. She worked extremely hard, saw a lot of people and tried to do her best.
I think that I made a mistake when the original proposals that the current scheme is based on came forward in January this year. I sat beside my hon. Friend on the Front Bench and while I understood the general thrust, I had not fully grasped the detail, which became clear only in the consultation. My mistake was to think at that time that we had solved the problem—we clearly had not. I got that wrong, but I hope that I have tried to contribute to the debate since, both inside and now outside the Department, as we try to deal with the present proposals. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, they move us on from where we were, but we are not yet there, so perhaps I could say a couple of things about where I think we might go.
First, we got the issue of discretionary payments wrong in the original proposals. A number of discretionary payments have effectively become fixed and people have become dependent on them. That should have been known to the Department, but clearly it was not known in enough detail, which has accordingly led to uncertainty and to people feeling that they might not be financially compensated to the extent that they are at present. That cannot be the case, and I am certainly not prepared to support anything that will make my constituents worse off than they are at present. That was not the intention, so we must make sure that those discretionary payments are included in the new scheme.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for the work that they have done. One of my constituents is co-infected with many conditions as a result of receiving contaminated blood. It has affected literally every part of his body and his life. He worries that he may lose up to £6,000 in discretionary payments and that the cost of his many treatments may count against him in the settlement. We know that our hon. Friend the Minister is listening carefully, so will my right hon. Friend join me in urging her to look carefully at those concerns so that the Government can do the right thing?
Yes, I will. I will turn to those who are co-infected, but staying on discretionary payments for a moment, I just think that the position was not clear enough. As the trusts were administered separately and not by the Department, I do not think that there was full awareness that the discretionary payments had become a fixed part of people’s income. There is much more awareness of that now, and dealing with this is essential because people are extremely worried as they do not see such payments specifically included in the scheme, and I hope that they will be part of it.
I would also like a small amount of money to be made available for some of the things thrown up through the system that are not recognised. I am thinking in particular of a family in which two young boys lost their father and two uncles, and were taken into care. Their lives were changed hugely because of that. There is no part of the scheme that fits the agonies that they went through, so I wonder whether there could be some recognition of that, with a small part of the fund kept for unusual circumstances.
I must reiterate my determination that there should be some form of inquiry into what has happened. We know—it is on record—the sense of scandal about this. We have heard from former Ministers, including Lord Owen, who made a speech relatively recently in which he was very clear about what happened. He spoke about ministerial documents being “scrapped” and said:
“I have become convinced that there has been a cleaning-up of documents”,
“there was a decision to clean up all the files and stop some of the incriminating evidence”.
Given that this major issue has led to so many deaths and so much misery, and that people know that something went wrong, it cannot be right that there is still not a public space so that the people affected can know what happened.
The inquiry process worked well for Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday, although we know that the position is currently clouded by what is happening with the child abuse inquiry. I do not think that a full public inquiry is necessarily the only vehicle to deal with this, but there needs to be some way for the Department to answer in a way that it has not done up to now, which it cannot do through the mere revealing of documents. It remains essential that we press for such a process.
I will not give way, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me. I have taken two interventions and will not get any more time.
I now want to raise specifically the issue of those who were co-infected. The majority of those infected by contaminated blood were infected with hep C. Some 1,200 people were co-infected with HIV and hep C, and perhaps only 250 of them are left alive. The suffering experienced by those who were co-infected is different from that of those who were mono-infected. There is now the possibility of treatment for hepatitis C, which we all welcome. Such treatment has considerably changed the outlook for many people, but it is not available for the co-infected.
This discrete group cannot grow any larger; it is diminishing all the time. Those who are co-infected have experienced things in their lives that have not affected others, such as being told their length of life right at the beginning. I know of those who were told when they were very young that they might have only five or six years left. They thought that the education they were going through was of no consequence—what was the point?—and nor was looking after any sum of money they were given, because they might as well spend it if they were not going to live. Their outlook is now different, because medical treatments have allowed them to stay alive, but their condition is still extremely serious and varies almost from day to day.
For that diminishing number, a lump sum, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and others have mentioned, might be a possibility. They do not want to be dependent on the system; they want recognition of what they have lost, including their opportunities, and a lump sum might be the answer for them. I would be very grateful if there is now some consideration for the co-infected, because much of the debate has tended to be about the majority. I do not think that that is necessarily wrong, because what is provided for the majority is very important, but the co-infected matter.
We have been here too often. I doubt, sadly, that my hon. Friend the Minister will be the last Minister to talk about this issue, but we will not go away and the House will not leave this. This is a collective shame, because Government after Government have not grasped that this just needs a final settlement. We can find the money for other things. This issue cries out for that sort of settlement and we will not stop.
I am pleased to speak in this debate on behalf of children who lost their father, a mother who lost her son, and a spouse who lost her husband, as well as the many people who still suffer an injustice.
I want to focus on transparency in the public sphere. As the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) said, it has become obvious that there is evidence that there was knowledge long before there was action, as we saw, for example, from Lord Owen’s testimony to the Archer inquiry. It was stated that when he went to the Department of Health as a Minister and saw boxes of notes on the subject, that raised questions in his mind. He decided he needed a team to deal with the matter, but when he returned a week later, all the paperwork had been shredded. I therefore wonder whether, through this debate—perhaps the Minister will reply to us in writing—we could give permission to others who might know more to come forward. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it might not be right to hold a full-scale, lengthy inquiry, but there must be some way of holding to account the individuals who knew more.
That covers the justice point; the other linked point is the question of trust in health providers. Madam Deputy Speaker, as I am sure that you are aware from listening to this debate, there was wide knowledge at the time, even among health professionals. I therefore wonder whether health professionals who were working in the national health service at the time might be able to shed some light on how it could be that individuals knew about the contamination, yet decided to continue with the use of contaminated products, both for reasons of cost and because it was said that there was no alternative. Years later, we are in a position of trying to find the truth. Now is the time to look at these two questions of trust and justice.
I add my voice to those who have said that bringing in Atos and other private providers could redouble the sense of a lack of trust about resolving this matter. Could we not look at this as just an NHS-led process, which would underline honesty and a sense of communicating well with those who have suffered so many years of trauma due to this terrible situation?
I put on record my recognition of the excellent work of the all-party group and of members of the haemophilia community, who have helped MPs to research this matter so diligently and have called for a proper investigation for so many years. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for bringing forward the debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing this debate and on all the fine work she has done on the all-party group in keeping this issue in the public eye and in the ministerial eye. I associate myself with many of the points and comments she made. She set out clearly what needs to happen now to resolve the problem, so I shall not repeat what she said.
I would like to highlight the cases of a couple of my constituents who have suffered from the terrible effects of this scandal. I spoke again this week to one of my constituents, Helen Wilcox, who contracted hepatitis C following a blood transfusion at the age of 17, 40 years ago. She told me that she had received some terribly bad news—that her illness had progressed to cirrhosis of the liver. She is currently undergoing tests and biopsies to find out how long she has left to live. I ask Members to imagine the sort of strain her family has had to live with all these years, knowing that her condition would probably get worse, yet hoping that it would not.
Mrs Wilcox has had four strokes and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. She takes 35 tablets a day and can barely get out of bed. Understandably, she says she has no life. She does not go out and she cannot make plans. She barely has the energy to bring up her children, and she had to give up her job 10 years ago. I am sure that the Minister will agree that she and her family deserve the certainty and clarity of a decent settlement in keeping with the pain and suffering she has endured.
Mrs Wilcox is not on her own. Many other Members will have similar stories from their constituencies. Another victim in my own constituency is Richard Warwick, who was multiply infected with HIV and hepatitis C as well as hep B by the NHS. His life has been ruined through no fault of his own. Of the 30 pupils in his class in the special school he attended, only four remain alive today. In fact, of the 1,200 victims who are co-infected, only 280 are still alive. Richard has campaigned long and hard for a fair deal for victims such as himself. One of the most heart-breaking and emotional meetings I have ever had as a Member of Parliament was when I spoke to Mr and Mrs Warwick, who told me about the impacts that has had on their lives and their terribly difficult decision not to have a family because of the health implications that would potentially have for their children.
I welcome the point made by the Haemophilia Society that the new payment scheme is an improvement on proposals in the original January consultation. I think it makes complete sense to have one single scheme rather than multiple schemes, and I am pleased that more money has been identified to pay the victims. On behalf of my constituents and others like them, however, I ask the Minister to ensure that no one is worse off under the new system, including those who are in receipt of discretionary payments. I ask, too, for greater clarity about payments made to the families of victims after they have passed away.
My hon. Friend is giving an emotional speech, and it is hard to listen to these cases. I am not going to go into the details of the constituent I speak for, but I will speak up for the idea of the lump sum payment for the co-infected, because they have even more strains than others. As my hon. Friend says, there are fewer and fewer of them and it is up to us to try to make their lives as good as we possibly can.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, echoing the comment of the chair of the all-party group that there should be an option to take an ongoing payment or a lump sum.
Of course, the victims have lived with their illnesses for decades and now they want to ensure that their families are compensated for the losses they endured because of that. Mr Warwick also had to give up his job many years ago. When his employers discovered that he was infected with HIV, he was asked to leave. That meant his wife became the main breadwinner, although she could only work part-time as the rest of her time was devoted to his care. Given that she may be near to or at retirement age, it may be difficult for her to find a full-time job. Mr Warwick tells me that more than anything he wants to be able to put his mind at rest by knowing that Mrs Warwick will continue to receive monthly payments throughout her lifetime.
I urge the Minister to think about the terrible impact this injustice has had on Helen Wilcox, Richard Warwick and their families—and many others like them—and to offer them greater clarity and a fair settlement, so that they can have peace of mind this Christmas.
I commence in the same vein as others by paying tribute to the leadership and work of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on this issue. I see other Members across the Chamber today who have also played a part, including the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who has been in meetings with the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). This is not a party political issue. The core of it is simply about doing the right thing, and it shows all-party groups and Parliament at their best. Members have come together on the basis of the difficult personal stories of our constituents, such as the one we have just heard from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake).
I have two constituents who have provided me with an inspirational lead in tackling the problem. My constituent Debra has HIV. She received it from a partner who had received contaminated blood products. In fact, he did not tell her at the time, and it took her several years to work out that all her health problems derived from that infection. He obviously became her ex-partner, and that person later died of his illness. Debra has never been able to hold down a job because of the continuing, persistent nature of the illness. In common with the constituent described by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, Debra was asked to leave her job, and her career has been badly threatened.
My constituent Neil has hepatitis C, which he contracted as a haemophilia patient as a child. Again, he is unable to hold down a job, which means he cannot hold on to decent housing. Another aspect of the problem is that Neil’s body retains water, and he has to go regularly to hospital to have his body drained of excess fluid. He can work, but he suffers from fatigue and his whole life has been dominated by these problems.
The only mistake these constituents of mine and of other Members have committed is to be unlucky. That is the only thing they have done. They were unlucky when they received these contaminated blood products or, in the case of Debra, were infected by a partner, without being told the circumstances. They are the victims of what could be considered, as we have said, a crime. We cannot get away from the fact that we still need to do more for people whose basic problem is that they were unlucky at a difficult time in their lives.
The current system is chaotic. We are simplifying it, although I fear that when we simplify systems of this kind, they may also become less valuable. As other Members have said, when it has been simplified and the various schemes have been brought together, no recipient should be any worse off. I approve of such an amalgamation, but I cannot help feeling that so far there has been almost a policy of divide and rule—perhaps unwitting, perhaps deliberate—with different types of scheme for different types of sufferer. There are also different schemes, and different levels of schemes, in the different countries of the United Kingdom. The situation is absurd: someone living in England might qualify for a Scottish scheme because it relates to the country that the recipient was in when he or she was infected.
We need some consistency and fairness. People who, rightly, feel angry and let down are being forced to compare their circumstances with those of other victims rather than looking to the real culprits: the private companies, described so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, which put profit before patients’ safety all those years ago and have never been brought to account. For that reason, I support the calls for a proper inquiry. I tabled some questions to the Department of Health recently, and it transpires that those corporations have never paid any compensation and no compensation has ever been sought from them. Someone said earlier that it might be difficult to pin down exactly who was responsible and when, but there should at least be an effort to track down those who are responsible and force them to pay for their misdemeanours.
I asked Debra and Neil for their comments. There is no doubt that Debra will lose money under the current proposals. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in the House:
“Today I am proud to provide them with the support that they deserve.”—[Official Report, 13 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 291.]
Debra found those words rather distasteful. Her response was angry, and she had every right to be angry. She gleaned from what the Prime Minister had said that she, as an HIV-infected partner, deserved to be worse off. She knows that her support will be reduced, but she wants to know what will happen to the money that Macfarlane Trust beneficiaries are losing. Will the amounts be the same? Victims of this scandal who are losing money are being asked to turn in on themselves rather than directing their fire at the real culprits. The Minister can deal with that by ensuring that no one loses out.
Debra believes that the schemes will take financial support from HIV and co-infected victims: those whose condition has no cure, who are forced to take toxic medication that helps to keep them alive, who struggle with mental illnesses as a result of living with stigma and discrimination, and who every day face the reality that, despite medication, people are still dying from HIV and AIDS. Debra has the impression that moving the schemes around is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Neil supports the idea of a Hillsborough-style inquiry, but says it is important to ensure that the level of support payments is maintained. He says:
“£15,500 is far too low and does not take into account how much expense being ill and travelling to and from hospitals across the country is!”
He also says that the payments should be linked to inflation, because otherwise they will grow ever smaller.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a Hillsborough-style inquiry. Like the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), I should like the Government to consider that. I took up the case of Ms Sullivan-Weeks’s stepfather, who received unheated Scottish blood products in England after they had been withdrawn in Scotland because there was a time lag in England. We do not know how many people were affected in that way, but he ended up dying. That prompts a particular sense of injustice. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is another reason why a Hillsborough-style inquiry is necessary?
Absolutely. We need to get to the truth. The victims and the surviving members of their families deserve the truth, and the culprits must be held to account as well. As has already been pointed out, it seems that there was knowledge of what was going on at the time.
The right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) rightly said that this matter is not going to go away. The longer it goes on, and the greater the sense of injustice felt by the victims and their families, the stronger will be the calls for a final resolution. I am glad that the Minister is present, because the Government have an opportunity to do the right thing: to lift the black cloud of uncertainty, and to end what was eloquently described by the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire as a “drip, drip” approach. We need a final answer to this question, which will provide the certainty that has been missing for so long.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). Without them, we would not have come as far as we have. With them, we have come a long way, although there is still more to do. I do not want to repeat what they have said, but what I will say is that the House of Commons Library has produced a very useful debate pack which I recommend to Members. The reference is CDP-2016-0227. I also commend the Tainted Blood website, whose timeline and chronology remind us that the first known case of a haemophiliac being infected with hepatitis C was discovered in 1961. We know that the development of blood products was designed to help haemophiliacs, but it actually harmed them.
I know a bit about this subject indirectly. On the day of the State Opening of Parliament in 1975, my wife received eight pints of blood, and went on to join us in the House of Commons. That was before Factor VIII had been spread around. The first member of my family knowingly to take an AIDS or HIV test was my mother. She had had a pancreatic operation and received a lot of blood, and later, when she heard what was going on, she said that she was going to get herself tested.
When I was a Northern Ireland Minister in 1989-90, I got in touch with the then director of the Haemophilia Society, because a friend of mine had been infected with HIV and AIDS after his haemophilia had been treated. I spent a long time doing the best I properly could, in my role as a Minister in a different Department, to give advice on how to try to bring the issues into the open. I pay tribute to my constituents and friends who are living with hepatitis C, HIV or AIDS and who have given me an insight into their circumstances.
I want to make a couple of points which will be obvious to those who think about them. First, is it not possible for something to be written in the medical notes of all the people who have been infected to prevent every hospital, clinician or care giver they encounter from going through questions such as “What is your drinking habit?” , “Why have you got this liver problem?”, and X and Y and Z? It seems to me that one of the first things to which people should be entitled is an understanding that their circumstances do not require them to tell strangers, several times a year, what has caused them to be in need of care and help.
Secondly, while I welcome the advances in dealing with hepatitis C, some specialist treatment requires people who live some distance from London to come to specialist hospitals here, and to arrive reasonably early. Travel and accommodation costs—including those of the person who is accompanying them, to whom they are married or who is caring for them—will need to be met. We need to find some way of ensuring that when members of this group in particular require specialist treatment, they are not put to abnormal difficulties in finding accommodation or paying for their needs. I think we can be more sympathetic than that.
Some of these people are very young, or were very young when they were infected. They are not people of my age, approaching their retirement years—not that I am hoping to retire soon. They may have felt lonely because they did not feel they could have an active social life. Some probably had no particular interest in pursuing higher education given the degree to which they could work and, as well as physical health issues, they probably needed other therapy. People should go out of their way to put arms around them—act not just like a two-armed human being, but like an octopus and get right around them and try to meet all their needs in a way that they find acceptable.
I wish colleagues in the Department of Health well. These are not easy issues to tackle. I know perfectly well that the Treasury has a job to do in trying to oversee every little change in departmental spending, but I hope the Prime Minister will do what her predecessor did, and, after a few months of letting the debate settle down, meet my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and representatives of the Haemophilia Society and ask, “Are we getting it right? Is there more that we should do?” The Prime Minister is able to bring together the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury and ask, “What more can we properly do to get rid of most of the problems?”
I have a question for my hon. Friend the Minister that I hope she will be able to answer today or in writing. Are the Government still giving help to the Haemophilia Society? The load on that society has been increased by this work. Its briefings and involvement have been important to Government and those affected, and to those of us trying to represent both. I hope that if the society is being put to extra costs, the Government will see if they can provide the funds they used to provide—I think they provided £100,000 for five years.
We come into politics not for title or high office, but because we care and want to make a difference to people’s lives. If I ever get round to writing a list of my political heroes, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has secured her place on it for all she has done for the many people affected by this—not just those who have been infected, but their families and loved ones, and people grieving the loss of someone who they thought would have longer than they had. A big difference is being made for them, but we still have a long way to go to secure real justice.
I am here to represent my constituent Alex Smith. He is infected with hepatitis C. That is bad in itself, but to add insult to that his wife died from the same infection, which was contracted from a blood transfusion while giving birth. He has suffered the loss of his wife, he has raised children by himself, he has been ill, and he has not been able to work. I resent the fact that the approach to this feels inhumane. It feels as though the starting point is how much money the Government are willing to pay rather than looking at things from the point of view of a human being.
I really struggle with the idea that the best on offer is to enable the victims of blood contamination to live just above the poverty line. The hopes, dreams, ambitions and potential of so many people have been ruined not just by the contamination, but by the treatment they have received from the hospitals when trying to find out information and get hold of their medical records, through poor diagnosis and treatment, and in trying to get justice and fair funding so that they can live a decent life.
It is more than just the infection that has now taken hold of people; it is the whole issue and the way it has been handled. It has dominated the lives of tens of thousands of people. Their lives have been put on hold while they have tried to get answers and justice. They have tried to just about keep their heads above water, but sometimes the bailiffs knock on the door or the red letter comes because they are unable to pay the utility or council tax bill or the rent.
I feel that the Government have a duty. They should not be held accountable for what went on in the ’70s and ’80s —we cannot expect that of them, although we obviously owe an apology on behalf of the nation—but we can judge them by their response today. I feel that their response lacks humanity and lacks recognition of the pain and suffering so many have gone through. They seem unwilling to provide answers and justice to the people affected.
I absolutely support the call for an independent inquiry. There are many questions that still need to be answered, not just for the victims and their families, but so that we can make sure the same mistakes do not happen again. I read the Manchester Evening News yesterday which told of an excellent but heart-breaking investigation that was carried out into how patients were treated by the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. There were stories about children who died as a result of ill treatment. What was most hurtful was not just the poor treatment, but the fact that the hospital did not face up to the mistakes it had made and tried to block information from coming out. When the journalist tried to get that information it was withheld and efforts were frustrated. The information needed to be released in the public interest.
That is the experience of many people who are affected by blood contamination. When they requested information they ought to have been entitled to—medical records, details of who knew what and when—they were frustrated by the very organisations and institutions responsible for the infection in the first place. That is a gross injustice to those trying to make sense of what happened to them and to move on in their life. So many of them still cannot see a future, and the Government have taken far too long to come forward with a comprehensive plan to address the questions and give the answers that are very much needed.
I urge the Government, for no party political gain whatever—this is beyond party politics; this is about human beings—to come forward with a properly funded and logical scheme that does not just keep people out of poverty, but reflects the fact that they have the right to a decent and fulfilling life. The answer should really unpeel the lid and get the information people desperately want to know about who knew what and when and how this happened. We need to learn lessons so that this does not happen again.
We are debating this specific issue today, but there are many people who are affected by poor public service and who are frustrated when they try to get answers. If there is one thing this place can do, it is apologise if an apology is needed, but more than that, we can be the champions for justice and help people get the answers they deserve.
Since being elected to this House, every Friday at surgery I have talked to one or two constituents on this subject. In the few moments that I have, I want to share with the House what it has taught me about the impact of this extraordinary tragedy. I have lived with them through all the frustrations and all the false hope that we will finally reach a settlement.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for the incredible work she has done in leading all of us on a cross-party basis to get the message across in respect of all those people—all those human beings, and all that human suffering. I also congratulate the Minister on her role and pay tribute to her predecessor, who worked hard, working with many of us, to try to get to a full and final settlement. I hope the Prime Minister and the Treasury are listening carefully to this debate, and that it is not beyond us to work together now to get what we have been promising our constituents—those people who, through no crime of their own, have been infected with HIV or hep C—that they will get a settlement and, as the previous Prime Minister said, nobody will be worse off.
This is a question about fairness, as the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) rightly emphasised. I do not think it is fair that my constituents should feel that people infected in Scotland get a better deal than they do in Stratford-on-Avon.
The difficulty for Mr M—as I will refer to him, because it is right that he maintains his privacy—is that for a very long time there has been something called the discretionary payment, which in reality is not discretionary in any way. It is something that he absolutely relies upon to make sure that at the end of the week and the month he can balance the books; he can live just well enough to be able to feel that he has regained his dignity and his freedom. The difficulty for the Minister is that there is this sum of money, but I urge the Government to look again at this matter, because it could lead to a legal challenge if people feel that they are being unfairly treated vis-à-vis Scottish settlements or other parts of our country. Some of my constituents are considering that course of action.
I want to move on to the case of Ms W, whose anonymity I am protecting because she deserves that protection. Her issue has involved the Macfarlane Trust and she is not alone in feeling that the trust is not fit for purpose. I have attempted to deal with the trust on her behalf; every step of the way it has blocked my attempts to get her case across. My message to those on the Front Bench is that it would be an outrage if the trust were to continue to deal with my constituents in any way, because it is simply not fit for purpose.
I will end my speech by mentioning Mr D, who is infected with hepatitis C, to remind colleagues of the urgency of this matter. We must not find ourselves back here again in a year’s time still looking for a settlement. Just this morning I received a call from Mr D’s wife, who works in our NHS, to tell me that he had been admitted to hospital following a severe deterioration in his liver due to the advanced hepatitis C. He might not be around by the time we come to a settlement, so I urge the Minister to remind her Government that this is about fairness and about speed of settlement.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for her strong campaigning zeal in relation to this subject. The contaminated blood and blood products scandal has touched the lives of many people over the past 40 years. Sadly, many people have died, leaving loved ones who had spent their lives caring for them. The scandal has not only affected those who are infected but changed the lives of their families as well. We have had many debates in the House and Westminster Hall calling for a full and final settlement for those affected, and what we see today is an improvement on what was offered to them in January, but we still have a distance to go if we are to give those people and their families the means to have a decent standard of living.
Questions remain unanswered as to why those infected blood products, which infected others, were imported from the United States—and perhaps other places—into Northern Ireland and Britain. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), is not the Minister responsible for this matter, but I hope that she can answer my questions today. I hope that she will pursue Lord Prior to ensure that we get answers. As the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) said, there is a collective shame surrounding this issue. It is an issue without political boundaries or barriers, because it has impacted on families throughout the UK.
I return to a point that I raised in an earlier intervention, to highlight the issues that we face in Northern Ireland. I have written to the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, because there has not yet been an announcement on the scheme for Northern Ireland. She replied to me in early August, after the Prime Minister’s statement here in the Commons. She stated:
“I am currently considering options for the future of financial support for patients and families in the north of Ireland before making a decision.”
That is a similar answer to those that I received from her predecessors. There is no sense of urgency on their part, and no recognition or acknowledgment of the fact that this is a serious matter, which has impacted on people’s lives. I have written again to the Minister in Northern Ireland to urge her to address this matter as soon as possible, and I would appreciate it if the Under-Secretary here could raise it in any forthcoming discussions with her Northern Ireland counterpart.
An important point is that the affected people in Northern Ireland can stay in the current scheme as long as the English scheme remains unreformed, but once the new English administrator is in place—I hope it will not be Atos or Capita—the existing discretionary charities will close. That will leave my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), as well as other affected people in Northern Ireland, in great peril. We do not want that to happen. The Haemophilia Society has also raised this matter in its document.
I remind the Minister that the Irish Government took the courageous decision some years ago to accept liability for this tragedy, which has compromised the health and the immune systems of so many people, and to deliver a compensation scheme.
The House has been misinformed on this point a number of times in previous debates, and it is important to point out that the compensation scheme in the Irish Republic was established even before liability was acknowledged. The tribunal system and the compensation scheme were set up, and the subsequent acknowledgment of liability simply affected the quantum. The fact of compensation had already been established, and that is what is still missing in the UK.
I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. He characterises the position in the Republic of Ireland, which illustrates clearly the acknowledgment that the needs of people came first, before all the other extraneous matters.
I welcome the fact that progress has been made, but there are still matters that the Government must address if they want to be responsible for the long overdue settlement that these people are entitled to and require. It is not clear what will be in place following 2020-21. People need time to plan and they should not have to worry that the scheme might deteriorate or be pulled out from under their feet. I am also concerned by the lack of clarity on support for dependants, bereaved partners and bereaved parents, both current and future.
I have spoken many times in the Chamber about constituents of mine who have been affected by contaminated blood, and they have given me permission to name them. One constituent I have known for most of my life, Brian Carberry, has to go to weekly hospital appointments. He also has associated health problems. Over a year ago, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Thankfully, he is currently in remission.
Two other constituents are twins, Martin and Seamus Sloan, who live in Kilkeel. They are both haemophiliacs and both infected. Their lives have been turned upside down. They have difficulty keeping hold of interpersonal relationships, and their immune systems have been completely compromised. That means that they are exposed to many other types of illness, and they are therefore unable to work and to provide for their families.
The strain and challenges that the families of infected people face cannot be overlooked. It is a direct result of this tragic situation. There can never really be a remedy for those whose lives have been affected, but the Government can recognise their suffering and alleviate the financial strain that they experience as a result. The Government must also try to resolve what the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire described as the legacy of collective shame that goes back across many Governments, and to bring relief to the people affected. Sadly, some of those people have passed on.
Regular payments must be in place and discretionary grants must be available to all those infected and their families. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, who has been such a stout campaigner on the behalf of these individuals, I would also like some form of inquiry, but I do not want an inquiry to hold up whatever form of compensation will eventually become available. We need to find out the reasons and the causes and hold to account the people who did this to our constituents and the wider population. It must never happen again. The Government have made progress, but they must ensure a full, fair settlement that is allied to an inquiry, because that is what these people deserve, so vitally need and have long been owed. It is long overdue for those lives lost, compromised or damaged by bad health as a result of infected and contaminated blood products.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), who has consistently spoken with passion about this issue. I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for securing the debate and for chairing the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood.
I rise in this debate as a Scottish Member representing a Scottish constituency for two reasons. First, I want to speak on behalf of constituents such as Cathy Young, a stage 1 widow and member of the Scottish Infected Blood Forum. Like me, that group wants not only to express solidarity with those in other parts of the UK who find themselves in a different scheme, but to make the reasonable point that Scottish Members may find that they have constituents who are victims of infected blood and are covered by two different schemes, because the infection took place not in Scotland, but elsewhere in the UK. That is an important point. Members from other parts of the UK will find that they have constituents who are part of the Scottish scheme and benefit more as a result. Cathy wrote to me last night to say:
“I think for me personally, being a widow, obviously those still living with the horror of this disaster must be financially looked after, and not with payments that people feel that once again they’re just being fobbed off, but I would like both widows, and the deceased person’s estate, like children or parents of children who have passed away, to be recognised, and not with the insulting payment being offered. Our community deserve and demand the respect that has been denied us, and the justice that is long overdue. I send my total support to all those infected and affected by this disaster.”
Secondly, I want to raise issues relating to the proposed Scottish scheme that require this place to complete some work so that those infected in Scotland can receive their compensation. The Haemophilia Society points out that
“The Scottish scheme is comparatively more generous. The Scottish discretionary support scheme will also be better-administered, with patient involvement in governance; a goal to minimise means-testing and assessments; and a commitment to continue existing ongoing payments and ensure no beneficiary is worse off under the new support arrangements.”
According to analysis, the Department of Health could adopt many aspects of the Scottish scheme and still fall within the allocated budget. The all-party group calls on the Government to adopt those measures, particularly in relation to bereaved partners, and to reverse their plans for appointing a profit-making private administrator for the discretionary scheme. Any additional funds required to support those affected could be found, as the motion states, from the 2013 sale of the Government’s stake in Plasma Resources UK.
There are other differences between the schemes. Annual payments for those with HIV and advanced hepatitis C will be increased in Scotland from £15,000 to £27,000 to reflect average earnings. Those with both HIV and hepatitis C will have their annual payments increased from £30,000 to £37,000 to reflect their additional health needs. When a recipient dies, their spouse or civil partner will continue to receive 75% of their annual payment. Those infected with chronic hepatitis C will receive a £50,000 lump sum, which is an increase on the previous £20,000, meaning that there will be an additional £30,000 for those who have already received the lower payment. A new support and assistance grants scheme will be established in Scotland to administer and provide more flexible grants to cover additional needs. Scottish Government funding for the scheme will be increased from £300,000 a year to £1 million a year. As recommended, the Scottish Government will aim to deliver the new scheme through a single body so that those affected no longer need to apply to more than one body for funding.
However, the timing of the Scottish-wide payment system will depend on both Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department of Health. Will the Minister outline what discussions the Department has had with HMRC about passing the relevant tax orders so that payments can be made to those entitled to compensation? They should be able to receive it with the minimum of fuss and should not be liable to tax. That has to happen whichever mechanism is used to make the new payments. To use the existing scheme to make the new payments, all four nations of the UK must agree, but only Scotland is signed up at the moment.
There are some important decisions to be taken before the Scottish scheme is established. They include changes to the threshold for receiving ongoing support, a re-examination of the ability of those with incomplete medical records to apply, an appeals procedure for those who think they should be in the Scottish scheme—that might apply to people resident in Scotland who were infected elsewhere, but want to apply to the Scottish scheme—a procedure for converting ongoing payments into a lump-sum settlement, and consideration of how the new discretionary scheme will operate in practice. The affected community will broadly welcome the replacement of the five trusts with a single scheme administrator, but the news that the new administrator of the proposed English scheme is likely to be a profit-making private company, which was not mentioned in the consultation documents, will be met with considerable concern. The tender process for a new scheme administrator started in September 2016. It was expected that the new administrator would take over in May 2017 following a transition period, but it appears that the deadline is now being pushed forward.
It is of grave concern to many hon. Members that Atos and Capita have attended Department of Health meetings to discuss bidding for the contract. It will be of utmost importance that the new supplier understands the complex needs of scheme beneficiaries and deals with all correspondence sympathetically. We all have concerns that if, as is likely, the successful bidder is a private company, it is not clear how the discretionary aspects of the scheme will be delivered. While the Department will own and publish a set of principles for discretionary support, as well as holding the budget, it will be up to the scheme administrator to consider applications for grants and other support. The Scottish scheme has the alternative option of a scheme administrator with more beneficiary involvement, and the original all-party group report recommended a similar thing. The Scottish discretionary support scheme will be better funded, as its funding is set to more than treble, while the English scheme will see a more modest 25% increase in 2018-19.
Before I conclude, I want to discuss some concerns relating to matters raised by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and health records. People who were infected during this disaster do not have the words “HIV” or “hepatitis C” on their death certificates, which is understandable due to the stigma attached to those conditions at the time. Will the Government or the scheme administrator consider that issue? There are people who were infected whose death certificates say something different, but their medical records will show that infection.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. He might be about to put another question to the Minister, but in case he does not, I will. How will the Government try to get to the spouses of people who might have died 25 years ago? Those spouses might not know about this offer, because not everyone is involved in the networks.
That is very important. It is also up to us, as Members, to raise that issue with our constituents through newsletters and all the rest of it. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are people who lost their partners years ago and do not know about the scheme. I thank him for his intervention and I hope the Minister will consider that point.
There are clear points to address because we must ensure that the compensation is not subject to tax, as that would be ludicrous. We must also deal with the issue of the death certificates. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this first-class debate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate. Let me start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling today’s debate and the hon. Members responsible for tabling the motion. I especially thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for leading the debate and for her work on the all-party group. She summarised the situation clearly and forcefully, and I am particularly grateful to her for outlining the risk of private operators administering the scheme. That concern has been raised by several hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Another recurring theme in the debate has been justice and the question of how much was known about the contamination at the time—that question has been asked, so it deserves an answer. Without any doubt, this subject is one of the most terrible chapters in the history of our NHS. It is truly horrific and has had an impact upon tens of thousands of people and their families. In some cases, their experience has been ongoing for more than 40 years. Many people have already died or been left suffering long-term disability and hardship as a result of infections. Relatives have had to sacrifice their careers to provide care and support. In some cases, partners and loved ones have become infected. Indeed, I received an email from a surviving victim of contaminated blood whose partner subsequently became infected and died. Patients, families and carers have had to deal with such difficulties with immense and enduring courage, and I wonder how many have found the strength—physically, emotionally and, indeed, financially.
That brings me on to the proposed changes to the current ex-gratia payments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) illustrated, the proposed new scheme in Scotland will lead to an increase in annual payments for those with HIV and advanced hepatitis C from the current £15,000 to £27,000 per year. That amount is set at a level that reflects average earnings. That point is important as this is not about poverty; it is about a decent standard of living. The payments for those co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C will increase from £30,000 to £37,000 per year, and that amount reflects their additional health needs. When a recipient dies, their partner will continue to receive 75% of the previous annual entitlement. That, too, is important, given how many have had to give up their own careers to look after loved ones. Those infected with chronic hepatitis C will receive a £50,000 lump sum payment, which gives an additional £30,000 to those who have already received the lower payment.
The Scottish discretionary support scheme is set to see its funding more than treble. It will have an independent appeals mechanism, and there is a general guarantee that no individual will be worse off than at present. To simplify the situation so that those affected will no longer have to apply to more than one body for funding, the Scottish Government aim to deliver this scheme through a single body. Full governance arrangements are still to be detailed for this new organisation, but it is likely to be administered by National Services Scotland. It is also worth remembering that the Scottish Government are committed to reviewing the distinction between stage 1 and stage 2 hepatitis C.
There are clear differences between what is proposed for Scotland and the system elsewhere, with many viewing the Scottish scheme as comparatively more generous. That said, it is not without its detractors, particularly those with lesser health impacts who will not receive the more generous payments proposed. It is therefore important that we continue to listen to the views of beneficiaries as we design and implement the new Scottish scheme, so evidence-based reviews of the payment criteria will be carried out. In Scotland, we want to improve the scheme for everyone, but we must give greater priority to those in most severe need.
We have already heard of many tragic individual cases from throughout the UK, but I will spare hon. Members further heart-wrenching examples of cases of which I have received details. Instead I shall focus on some of the questions that have been raised with me by victims and their support groups; I hope that the Minister can assist with some answers. The first relates to the compensation schemes and the fact that there are currently five different organisations funded by UK Health Departments, including the three devolved health authorities. That means that using the existing schemes to make the new Scottish payments requires the agreement of all four nations of the UK. There must also be agreement from the boards of the UK-wide schemes. Currently, only Scotland is signed up. There will be a Scotland-wide payment system, but the timing will depend on the UK Government, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department of Health. I therefore ask that the UK Government do not stand in the way of the Scottish payments.
That brings me to my second ask, which echoes one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West: Westminster must pass tax orders so that none of the payments are liable for tax—that must happen whichever mechanism is used to make the new payments. Thirdly, what more can be done about cross-border infections? The current schemes are based on where the individual was infected, rather than their residency, which means that the English schemes apply to some Scottish residents and the new Scottish scheme will apply to others resident in England. That issue compounds the next point I wish to make: hepatitis C sufferers are acutely aware of the cold, and during the winter their heating bills go through the roof. If they cannot afford to heat their home, they are at greater risk of death through complications due to illness such as flu or colds. There is therefore a clear need for the winter fuel allowance, so perhaps Ministers can advise us on their rationale for wanting to remove it.
It has been suggested to me by the Scottish Infected Blood Forum that the liver damage test is outdated and we should look at the impact the condition has on the whole body. The problem may be amplified among those who have made positive lifestyle choices such as abstaining from alcohol, as their liver may appear to be less affected. Finally, people want some certainty about future funding, so what support will continue after the current spending review period?
I always try to be positive and to look forward to the future, but given the age of many victims and their medical complications, people are dying every week—there are fewer of them every year. Thousands have already died and for them this is all too little, too late. It is difficult to be positive in the circumstances, but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in today’s excellent and generally consensual debate.
It is a pleasure to speak in such an important debate. I want, first and foremost, to thoroughly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who for many years now has championed and pushed on this vital matter. Her work cannot and must not go unnoticed or unrecognised. I am sure people across the country, and indeed across the House, will want to join in thanking her.
The experiences of those men and women affected by this awful scandal should never be out of our minds as we continue to do all that we can to support them. Doing all we can for them is paramount, knowing full well that whatever we do will not be enough to give them back their life or a life without suffering or pain. HIV and hepatitis are terrible conditions. Someone living with HIV or hepatitis will face fears of developing other conditions and have to face the stigma that comes with these conditions. This debate is welcome, as it is the first time the House has had the chance to debate the new scheme since it was announced and to continue to hold the Government to account to do more. It is important that we now have the chance to discuss that in a considered and comprehensive manner.
In my contribution, I want to touch upon three areas: first, the current funding system in England; secondly, the involvement of private companies to administer support to beneficiaries; and, thirdly, the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel to recognise the failures of the system that these people have had to live with.
It was announced earlier in the year that a new financial arrangements system would be introduced, and a public consultation was conducted to get views and opinions on how that would take shape. Although there has been a welcome, if somewhat modest, increase in the annual payment to people with HIV, hepatitis C at stage 2 and those who are co-infected, as well as the first guaranteed ongoing payments for people with stage 1 hepatitis C, it is concerning that these payments fall short of what has been drawn up in Scotland.
Also, the current English system makes no mention of support for people who have been cleared of hepatitis C prior to the chronic stage but who, despite fighting off the disease, may still exhibit symptoms ranging from fatigue to mental health issues and even diabetes. These people have never been entitled to any support, and continue to get none. The scheme does not include support for those infected with other viruses, such as hepatitis B, D or E, and for those people it has meant continuous monitoring of their liver function. It is estimated that that group is extremely small and, according to the Haemophilia Society, would be a minimal cost to the Department of Health.
We find that the new scheme does little or nothing for bereaved partners, parents or children of those who have sadly died from diseases contracted through the contaminated blood scandal. The new system should have gone a long way to supporting those various groups within the affected community. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance that those concerns have been noted, and that she will go away and look into what more can be done to help the people I have just mentioned.
There are also concerns regarding the discretionary payments, which, thankfully, were saved, despite it being announced in the consultation earlier this year that they could be scrapped. That should be welcomed, but there is a clear concern that the discretionary support will not go far enough to improve the support on offer for those with HIV or those who are co-infected. The Government need to consider that impact and what more they plan to do. It is worrying that the Government have yet to make clear the minimum and maximum discretionary support that people will be able to receive.
I understand that the Reference Group on Infected Blood is currently considering that policy and that we will hear more from it in the new year, but would it not be worth while for the Minister to give us some indication now, so that those who will depend on this money in the years to come can have some reassurance, especially as we enter the festive period? There are many questions to be answered. That is why I hope that in the time allowed the Minister will give us in the House and those who will be watching the debate the reassurances that they need.
The new scheme will replace the current system so that the five trusts across the country that administer the payments are amalgamated into one, and I know that that has been welcomed. However, there is one very concerning point that was so eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North when she opened the debate and which needs to be addressed by the Minister. I refer to the potential involvement of a private sector company, such as Atos or Capita, which both bid in the tender process. The Minister no doubt expects me to make the typical party political point, but I am not going to do that.
That potential involvement was never included in any talks with the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and blood contamination, no consultation was held with the affected community, and there was no mention of it in the Department’s response to the survey, yet we see it happening now. The concern here is that the many thousands of people affected by the mistake—which, it must be remembered, was often made by US private companies—feel aggrieved at the potential involvement of a profit-making private company. That resentment is justified, especially as it was the mistake of a private company that put them in their current situation. There should be no profit making when it comes to compensating for the failures of the private sector. That was highlighted well by my hon. Friend in her speech and was also touched on by the former Health Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt).
The issue was highlighted too by the APPG’s survey of nearly 1,000 people affected by the scandal, who clearly had concerns about the involvement of a profit-making private company. It is important that those affected have their say in the administration of the payments and support. I would therefore be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on their involvement, as we have seen in Scotland, where there has been an alternative scheme operator which includes beneficiary involvement. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why private involvement is now being considered, but was never consulted upon.
My final point is about co-ordinating an independent panel, such as in the case of Hillsborough. The Prime Minister promised in September that she would keep an open mind about an independent panel, but she has, sadly, quashed the idea. The rationale given is that we have had two public inquiries into this matter already, by Lord Archer and Lord Penrose. That may be the case, but it is important that we consider the approach to helping people to get the justice they deserve, especially as it is clear that neither of the inquiries met the needs of the affected community. The two inquiries were narrow in their focus and were not about apportioning blame. The affected community is not calling for that. What it is calling for, which is strongly supported by the Opposition, is a truth and reconciliation process and public disclosure of the failures, which those affected rightly deserve.
On the need for some vehicle of inquiry into the background, in an intervention I pointed out that, in the Irish Republic, the right to compensation was established in 1995. There was an Act in 1997, but it was following a tribunal of inquiry that the state admitted liability, so there was further legislation in 2002. The liability of the Irish state rested on the fact that the tribunal found that the state knew that there was a risk and carried it because the UK and others were prepared to carry the same risk.
I am grateful for that important intervention, which emphasises why we need an inquiry into issues such as the one that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
I am sure the Minister can understand the concerns across the House and out in the community among the people affected and their families. Before she replies, I ask her not to adopt the same language as that used by the Prime Minister, who attributed the lack of support for an independent panel to the delay in the introduction of a support system. An independent panel with clearly defined terms of reference would not impede the development and implementation of the new system. I hope the Minister will keep that in mind when she responds, and recognise how important it is for those affected to get the reconciliation for which they have fought so long.
The Government must be committed for reforming the system and listening—must be commended, rather, for reforming the system and listening. I know they are committed to that. However, this is such an important issue that we must get it right, and once more I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North for her steadfast campaigning on this issue over many years. I am sure the community will also recognise that fact. Those people who have had their lives marked so significantly by the failures of the past should rightly be compensated and respected. Those who have died because of that serious mistake, those who are still living with the repercussions of the mistake, and those who have thankfully fought it off but still live with the impact of it all deserve respect and dignity, and I hope that in her reply the Minister will give them just that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and all the members of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood on helping to secure this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for providing time for it. It has been a highly informed, very personal and moving debate, but it has also been non-partisan. I thank all Members from across the House for the constructive way in which they have approached the debate.
I would like to begin by formally adding my personal apology to all those who have been affected by these tragic circumstances and the impact that this has had on so many families. I thank all colleagues’ constituents for their bravery in allowing their personal circumstances to be shared in the House today. It brings this debate to exactly where it should be, reminding us all what we are trying to achieve through the process. The importance of that cannot be overstated. I wish I could refer to all the constituents who were mentioned today. I listed them, but that would take most of the debating time that we have today, so I say thank you to all those who allowed their stories to be told. That is exactly why the Government are introducing the reforms we have been debating today to existing support schemes, alongside a commitment within this spending review period of up to £125 million until 2020-21 for those affected, which will more than double the annual spend over the next five years.
At the beginning, however, we should be up front in recognising that nothing can make up for the suffering and loss these families have experienced, and no financial support can change what has happened to them. However, I hope all of those here today will recognise that the support provided is significantly more than any previous Administration have provided, and recognise how seriously the Government take this issue. I would like to join colleagues in paying tribute to the previous Prime Minister and to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for all their work on the issue. I reiterate their statement that the aim of this support scheme is that no one will be worse off.
It is, as many colleagues have said, time for our reforms to bring an end to the tortured road that far too many of those affected have been down. It is time for a more comprehensive and accessible scheme that gives those affected their dignity back. However, as I hope is clear from the debate, not all the details are yet resolved. I hope to answer as many questions as I can today, but I am certain that the noble Lord Prior will be listening closely to the debate, and he will be in contact with all those here today to make sure we can resolve details that I cannot get to in the time available.
Let me turn to where we are. The reforms guarantee that all those who are chronically affected will, for the first time, receive a regular annual payment in recognition of what has happened to them. That includes all the 2,400 individuals with hepatitis C stage 1, who previously received no ongoing payment, but who will now expect to receive £3,500 a year.
Increases to existing annual payments have also been announced. These are not designed in themselves to guarantee a reasonable standard of living. The package needs to be considered in the context of the whole range of support that is available for the patient group, including support being exempt for the purposes of tax, and benefits being claimed by beneficiaries of the schemes, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) rightly mentioned.
I would like to address a couple of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North about finances. We do expect to spend all the budget allocated to the scheme in the year, but the budget for the scheme does come within the Department of Health’s budget, not the Treasury budget, so if there is an underspend in any one year, the money will remain in the Department of Health. If any payments that should be made within that year fall into the next year, we can take that money forward.
I would also like to address the concerns that have been raised about the tendering for the scheme. The shadow Minister is, I am afraid, not quite correct that Capita and Atos have already bid to administer the scheme. The invitation to tender has not yet been issued, so no initial bids have been received so far. We intend to issue the invitation to tender shortly, and I am absolutely sure that, as the tender is being designed, the concerns that have been raised in the debate will be heard, and that the concerns about trust and the history of this situation will be well understood by all those involved in the design.
I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position around the tender, but could she confirm that the only organisations or businesses that have been invited in for conversations with the Department of Health were the two that have been mentioned by a number of hon. Members today? Is that correct or not?
I have had no meetings on this issue, because it is obviously not within my departmental brief. I am happy to try to find out about that issue, if the hon. Lady would like.
I would like to move on to some other issues because we are quite tight for time.
I would like to talk about the budget that has been allocated, because it has been mentioned on a number of occasions. The pressures on the health budget will come as no surprise to anyone here today—we had an animated debate about that just this week. I would like to assure everybody in the House that, even in the context of those pressures, we fought hard to protect the money for this scheme through tough budget negotiations so that we could fulfil commitments that were made and ensure that the concerns of those affected are addressed as far as possible.
In that context, I would like to talk in a little more detail about some of the concerns that have been raised today by colleagues. Colleagues have rightly raised the issue of support for the bereaved and those relying on discretionary payments. That is why we have introduced the one-off payment of £10,000 to bereaved partners or spouses of primary beneficiaries, where infection contributed to the primary beneficiary’s death, and in recognition of their relationship at the time of death.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will in one second. I just want to respond to a point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North about the certification of death. We understand that death certification may not state a direct contribution, so the policy that is to be published will recognise other ways to show a causal link between infection and death. We would like to make sure that issues around that are not a barrier to support under the scheme.
I thank the Minister for giving way on that point, which she has partly answered in her contribution. However, could we just get some clarity on cases where the death certificate is marked “unascertained” and on whether there will be more flexibility around that, providing that the hepatitis can be proven?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Those are exactly the issues that are being wrestled with at the moment by the Department, and we are trying to resolve them.
We realise that the accessibility of the payment scheme for the bereaved, but also of the discretionary support scheme, will be important, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). I am not able to give the complete details of the discretionary scheme at the moment. In 2017-18, a new, single discretionary scheme will replace the three discretionary support schemes that are currently in place. It will have an increased budget, and it will be transparent and flexible so that it can support the beneficiaries who are most in need. However, until those details are fully worked out, it would not be fair for me to speculate on exactly what they will be. I want to reassure hon. Members, however, that until we are in a position to introduce that new system, the current discretionary payments will stay in place.
I would also like to reassure hon. Members that the policy of paying bereaved partners and spouses £10,000 will be published by the Department of Health, and it will be communicated to all major stakeholders, including the APPG, to ensure that we reach out to those who were bereaved a long time ago and make both these policies as accessible as possible.
We realise that these payments can never make up for the personal loss bereaved partners or spouses have experienced, but we are trying to make sure that the process is as smooth and effective as possible, with as few barriers as possible, so that individuals do not feel as though they are trying to jump through hoops.
On the point I made earlier, which was echoed by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), will death certificates be dealt with in a very sympathetic fashion, so that someone’s death certificate will not say HIV or hepatitis C, although we will know through their medical records that that was the cause of death? Will the Government look at that?
The issue of death certificates is one that we are very alive to. It is one that the Department is trying to address, and I hope that we will be consulting closely with the relevant groups to make sure we deal with it in as sympathetic a manner as possible.
Could the Minister comment on the points I made about the inactivity of the Northern Ireland Executive? Would it be possible for further phone calls to be made to the Minister for Health in Northern Ireland to accelerate the process and to enable payments and a scheme to be made available?
If the hon. Lady will have a little patience, I have an entire section on the devolved nations coming up. Before then, however, I would like to move on and speak a little about the other sections of the scheme. As well as the one-off payment to bereaved partners and spouses, the Government’s response to the consultation makes it clear that partners and spouses will be able to continue to access discretionary schemes on a means-tested basis. However, that is not the end of the story. My officials will continue to work with a reference group of experts on the details of the policy for this new payment for the bereaved and on elements of the wider discretionary payment. As soon as the policy is confirmed, the Department will publish it and give guidance on who is eligible and how to access the payment as easily as possible.
I recognise that, as has been clear from this debate, some do not feel that the new payments that have been announced are sufficient. However, they are based on the consultation response, and a judgment was made to provide support to the widest group of people possible to recognise the pain and suffering of those who have been affected by this tragedy. There are never really any right answers when designing a support scheme in recognition of such awful circumstances. Difficult judgments have to be made in relation to prioritising support. We consulted on the proposals and used the responses gathered to announce reforms that, for the first time, provide annual payments to all infected individuals rather than waiting for more people to get sicker before they receive support.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North raised issues about other viruses. We have not expanded the scheme to include other viruses, including vCJD. In that case in particular, that is because there is already a vCJD compensation scheme that offers no-fault compensation. It was set up by the Government for vCJD patients and their families in recognition of their wholly exceptional situation. The scheme provides for payments to be made, in respect of 250 cases, from a trust fund of £67.5 million. Over £41 million has been paid out by the trust to date. There are currently no proposals to extend the infected blood system of ex gratia payments to include other viruses or infections that were contracted through routes other than NHS-supplied infected blood. This is based on the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs. For example, hepatitis B was not involved in the schemes when they were set up because the blood donor hepatitis B screening test had been introduced in the 1970s. There are other reasons for not including hepatitis E that I am happy to write to the hon. Lady about in more detail should she wish me to do so.
We now arrive at the devolved nations section that I mentioned to the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie). Many colleagues have referred to the Scottish Government’s reforms. We are working closely with officials from Northern Ireland in keeping them up to date on our progress with implementation. These beneficiaries, as the hon. Lady said, will be eligible under the Northern Irish scheme to continue to receive support at their current levels. I am happy to ensure that my noble Friend Lord Prior is made aware of her concerns about the potential impact on Northern Irish victims.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) rightly raised the importance of co-ordination between the devolved nations on the support schemes. Given the significance of the points that he raised, and some complexities about the co-ordination of business, it is important that I ask my noble Friend Lord Prior to contact him directly on those points so that these matters can be co-ordinated effectively. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on one point: the £500 winter fuel payment is now automatically included in the payment that people in England are getting as part of the support scheme. That means that they do not have to apply for it, as was the case previously. I hope that he will accept that that is a degree of progress.
Many colleagues point to the Scottish scheme as a blueprint for what they would like to see introduced in England, but there are some differences, as the hon. Gentleman noted. In England, there are about 2,400 individuals with hepatitis C stage 1 who were not receiving any annual payment. We have introduced a new annual payment for all those individuals so that they can get support now rather than waiting for their health to deteriorate before they are eligible for it. The Scottish Government have made their own judgments. They have chosen to provide a lump sum payment, and there are currently no proposals for annual payments to the hepatitis C stage 1 group.
We have put in place other measures to avoid the sense that, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) suggested, this support could be grudging, or that, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North mentioned, people could feel as though they were being treated as beggars. We have specifically put in measures to avoid this. For example, as we announced in response to the public consultation, people should not feel as though they have to jump through hoops to prove that they are worthy of support. We have no intention of introducing individual health assessments to registrants of schemes as a means of making people feel as though they have to prove their eligibility. Another key element is a special categories mechanism, with appeal, for those with hepatitis C stage 1 who consider that the impact of their infection, or the treatment for it, is similar or greater than for those at stage 2, such that they could qualify for stage 2 annual payments. This is a particularly beneficial aspect of the scheme.
Members have raised the issue of those who could clear hepatitis C infection. They will remain entitled to compensation under the scheme. The shadow Minister is right that those who clear the virus during the acute phase are not included in the scheme, but that is because the body fights off the infection before the severe health impacts occur. That has been the judgment of the expert advisory group, which we have been pleased to listen to.
Will the Minister deal with the question of tax rules? Has she had any discussions with HMRC on that issue?
I thought I had already answered that. These schemes are exempt from tax and we are continuing to ensure that the ongoing schemes will be subject to the same tax rules.
Several colleagues raised the issue of a public inquiry. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we do not believe that a public inquiry would provide further information. The things that a public inquiry could achieve, according to media reports, are establishment of the facts, learning from events, preventing a recurrence, catharsis, improving understanding of what happened, and rebuilding confidence and accountability. It is difficult to see what more information could be made available through a public inquiry given that action was taken as soon as possible to introduce testing and safety measures for blood and blood products as these became available, with the introduction of health and heated products, and that the Government have published all documents associated with this event from the period 1970 to 1985, in line with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. However, I am sure that campaigners will continue to make their case.
We have heard a lot about when this year’s payments will be made. I share that concern. When I was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for public health and innovation, I made resolving this issue one of my highest priorities. I am not prepared to suffer any further delays. It is not fair that affected patients should suffer the continuing uncertainty that has been raised by colleagues. I have told the Department that it must announce the scheme immediately. I am pleased to announce that letters to all hepatitis C stage 1 sufferers were sent out on 11 November informing them of their new annual payment and asking them to claim this through the existing schemes. The schemes have said that they will be able to make these payments by 22 December. Letters to those at stage 2 and those with HIV have been sent this week, and their additional payments will be made shortly before Christmas. The schemes are also planning to send all letters to bereaved partners and spouses before Christmas with the aim of paying their new lump sums before the end of the financial year, and certainly during March 2017. Details of the payment schedules are now available on the schemes’ website. In addition, as already announced, all new and increased payments will be backdated from April 2016 or the date of joining the schemes, if later.
I believe it is right that the Government’s focus is on considering how best to create and implement a system with the increased budget that is affordable, that redesigns the inconsistencies that we have heard about, and supports those most affected by these tragic events now and into the future. I will continue to listen to the concerns of those affected. I hope that I have responded to those concerns as effectively as I possibly can.
I will try to be brief. I thank, and am grateful to, hon. Members from across the Chamber for their excellent contributions. I spoke for quite a long time at the beginning, but I missed out some very important points, including the fact that the new scheme will be in place only until the end of the spending review in 2021, and that is of concern to many people. I was also remiss not to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) to her new role. She is a good friend and this is the first time that I have been in a debate with her as the shadow Minister for public health.
I know that the issue under discussion is not part of the Minister’s policy area, but I was pleased that she offered some reassurance on particular areas, including that any budget underspend by the trusts and charities in the new scheme will stay in the Department of Health budget and not go to the Treasury. I hope that it will be used to help beneficiaries. Her comments about death certificates were also welcome.
I am still very worried, however, about the tendering process that the Government seem to be set on pursuing to decide the scheme’s new administrator. It would be absolutely wrong if the they chose a private sector provider to do that.
I welcome the stage 1 hepatitis C payments.
Does the hon. Lady agree that, whoever administers the scheme, if there are anomalies or cases that come outside the rules, they should be free to tell the Government that they should change them?
May I interrupt? The winding-up speech is meant to be very brief. I do not mind, but there is a big debate to follow with a lot of speakers, and we are eating into that time.
I will be very quick. The ongoing payment of £3,500 for people with stage 1 hepatitis C is not a large amount of money for those affected. Under the Scottish model, a £30,000 lump sum payment is made if people have already received the £20,000 lump sum payment. Over the spending period, therefore, I am not sure that the Government can really say that the help that they are providing to people affected with stage 1 hepatitis C is greater than that provided to those in Scotland.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the Government’s recent announcement on the reform of the support schemes for people affected by contaminated blood and blood products; recognises that the contaminated blood scandal was one of the biggest treatment disasters in the history of the NHS; believes that those people affected should have a reasonable standard of living and not just be removed from poverty; is concerned that bereaved partners of people who died with HIV/AIDS and those reliant on regular top-up payments will be worse off; is concerned that the new payments for people infected with Hepatitis C are not commensurate with the pain and suffering caused; notes that people who were infected with other viruses, those who did not reach the chronic stage of Hepatitis C and bereaved parents are not mentioned in this announcement; and calls on the Government to use the funds from the sale of Plasma Resources UK to bring forward revised proposals that are properly funded and which provide appropriate support to all affected people.