Contaminated blood: Victims hit out at lower NI support payments

By Catherine Smyth & Marie-Louise Connolly

Image source, SPL
Image caption,
The amount victims in England are paid changed in April 2019

Northern Ireland victims of the contaminated blood scandal have hit out at the "very unfair" payments compared to other parts of the UK.

Victims in Northern Ireland receive less financial support than those in England, Scotland and Wales.

In some cases the difference can come to as much as £14,000 a year.

An estimated 5,000 people across the UK were infected in what has been called the "worst scandal in the history of the NHS".

Northern Ireland's finance and health departments said they are working with counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales to try to solve the disparity.

The scandal resulted in people who had haemophilia being treated with blood infected with hepatitis C or HIV in the 1970s and 1980s.

A public inquiry into the infected blood scandal began earlier this year.

'A life-changing amount'

Conan McIlwrath from Larne has haemophilia and, as a result of contaminated blood given to him as a child, has contracted Hepatitis C stage one.

He receives an annual payment of £4,096, but if he lived in England he would receive £18,458.

Image caption,
Conan McIlwrath's payments would be more than £14,000 higher if he lived in England

It follows a decision earlier this year by then Prime Minister Theresa May to increase financial support for people in England affected by the tragedy, to a total of £75m from £46m.

Mr McIlwrath described the annual disparity of more than £14,000 as "huge".

"That's almost a life-changing amount of money to normal people," he said.

"The security is not there for our family, we can't get life insurance so where is our security going forward?"

"It's down to geographical location because we were all treated with the same blood from the same pot."

'They haven't acted'

Paul Kirkpatrick, from Londonderry, has Hepatitis C stage one as a result of infected blood products given to him in childhood.

"As we stand today there's no movement in Northern Ireland," he said.

Image caption,
Paul Kirkpatrick has Hepatitis C stage one as a result of infected blood products given to him in childhood

"We are getting a lot of sympathetic letters from the government and the politicians but as it stands both the Department of Health led by [Permanent Secretary] Richard Pengelly and the Department of Finance led by [Permanent Secretary] Sue Gray haven't acted."

Why are things different across the UK?

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have their own financial support schemes for infected patients.

Scotland made changes to its scheme in 2017, with those who self-assess as severely affected by the Hepatitis C virus receiving £18,900 per year.

Those who self-assess as moderately affected get £6,300 per year.

In Wales, the payment is £4,705, and the Hepatitis C Stage 1 payment including a 'special case mechanism' element is £18,833.

The payment scheme for victims in Northern Ireland was established in November 2017, and is funded by the Department for Health.

Prior to a change in the regime in England in April 2019, victims received similar payments to those currently available in Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it was aware of the the life-changing impact of contaminated blood and blood products.

The spokesperson said the department was working with the health authorities in England, Scotland and Wales to try to "take forward the principle of parity of support".

It added "analytical work" is being carried out "to inform any decision on reform of the financial assistance scheme here".

A Department of Finance spokesperson said it was also in discussions with relevant UK departments to solve the disparity.

The issue is expected to form part of the 2020/21 Northern Ireland budget, which will be announced next spring.

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