BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Susan Watts

Archives for January 2011

Government payments for haemophiliacs unlikely to satisfy campaigners

Susan Watts | 18:50 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

It has been an important day for haemophiliacs given blood products contaminated with viruses including HIV and Hepatitis C in NHS treatment during the 1970s and 1980s.

They have been seeking compensation ever since to adequately reflect their ordeal. In particular they've been seeking parity with payments made in the Republic of Ireland, as recommended by an independent inquiry into this issue two years ago, led by Lord Archer of Sandwell.

You can see the first Newsnight item on this issue from April 17 2007, and more recently on 19 March last 2010, filmed before campaigner and haemophiliac, Haydn Lewis, died.

The government today announced the results of its review of payments to those affected.

Much of this will be welcomed by campaigners and affected families. An apology on behalf of this government and earlier administrations, free prescriptions, counselling and improved payments in the form of lump sums worth tens of thousands of pounds are all acknowledged as overdue across the political spectrum.

Those affected will also welcome moves to make sure that people infected with Hepatitis C and those infected with HIV receive near equality in payments.

But, today's announcement will not satisfy everyone, particularly on the issue of parity with Ireland.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was at pains to make clear that the money he plans to pay out does not reflect liability: "We are recognising the harm and distress that has occurred, and making ex-gratia payments..."

He sees this as an important distinction with the situation in Ireland, where payments to some individuals have reached £1m. This government, in common with earlier administrations, has refused to assess compensation on the same basis, arguing that the Irish blood transfusion service was found to be at fault, and that this is not the case in the UK.

One long-standing campaigner, Carol Grayson, reacted angrily to this position this afternoon, accusing the government of misinformation.

Her husband Pete died in 2005 after receiving a number of contaminated blood transfusions in the 1970s, and contracting HIV and hepatitis.

"Haemophiliacs will be mounting a legal challenge as soon as possible, no government should be above the law and must be accountable to the people. This will be a test case for truth and justice. The fight goes on, far from bringing closure, today's announcement has fuelled even more anger, and will definitely not bring resolution."

And this today from the Haemophilia Society: "Whilst there are things to be welcomed in the government's statement, the haemophilia community will see this as a gesture rather than settlement. These measures will not bring closure for the majority and a great opportunity has been missed."

The campaigners themselves were congratulated for keeping this issue in the spotlight, and for so long.

Diane Abbott, replying for the opposition, mentioned Haydn Lewis, who died last year and featured in a number of Newsnight items.

Tragically, his haemophiliac brother, Gareth, also died just before Christmas. Gareth too was named in the House by Jenny Willott MP for his work on keeping this issue in the public eye.

His death, she said, highlights the urgency of addressing the compensation issue.

In April last year, Andrew March, a composer who contracted HIV and hepatitis C through an NHS blood transfusion, won a High Court challenge over compensation levels.

Mr March had criticised the-then government's refusal to match the higher payouts in the Republic of Ireland .

Mr Justice Holman ruled that the way the UK government had reached its decision was indeed flawed, but said it was not his role to rule on the amount paid. He cautioned campaigners then against "false optimism".

Nearly five thousand people were exposed to Hepatitis C before routine heat treating of blood products began in the mid 1980s to kill viruses. They were mainly haemophiliacs, who were given a product to help their blood clot. Of these, more than 1,200 were also infected with HIV.

Flu death confusion

Susan Watts | 18:33 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

An interesting update on flu deaths emerged during Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's statement to the House this afternoon.

He was asked about the 14 deaths in Northern Ireland, and why this appears to be disproportionately higher than flu deaths in England.

He replied that the figure of 50 official deaths to date is the number that has been "verified" by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), then conceded: "There have been more deaths..." but, he explained, these have yet to be verified as deaths from flu by the HPA.

Certainly, we were hearing last week that the true number of deaths was higher than 50. So is this simply a case of the wheels of bureaucracy moving slowly?

Confusingly, in the latest HPA weekly national influenza report, the paragraph on mortality data seems to imply that the 50 deaths represent those across the UK... and yet the Department of Health has just confirmed to me that this number is deaths for England only.

Perhaps the real picture will emerge this week with the latest update due on Thursday..?

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