Infected Blood

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:22 pm on 21st January 2016.

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Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 12:22 pm, 21st January 2016

In the urgent question on 16 December, I committed to publishing the consultation on infected blood scheme reform in January. I am pleased, therefore, to announce the launch of that consultation. I recognise that for some this will come too late. I cannot right the pain and distress of 30 years, and the truth is that no amount of money could ever make up for the impact that this tragedy has had on people’s lives. As I have said before, for legal reasons, in the majority of cases, it is not appropriate to talk about compensation payments, but I would like to echo what has been said before in the House and say sorry on behalf of the Government to every person affected by this tragedy.

Scheme reform is a priority for me and the Government, and for that reason I can announce that the Department of Health has identified £100 million from its budget for the proposals in the consultation. This is in addition to the current spend and the £25 million announced in March 2015, and it will more than double our annual spend on the scheme over the next five years. This is significantly more than any previous Government have been able to provide for those affected by this tragedy.

I know all too well of the ill health and other impacts on many of those affected by the tragedy of infected blood. I have corresponded with many of those affected and their MPs—they each have their own story to tell—and I have reflected carefully on all this in developing the principles on which the consultation will be based. These are: that we focus on those infected; that we can respond to new advances in medicine; that we provide choice where possible; and that we maintain annual payments to everyone currently receiving them. The consultation is an opportunity for all those affected to have their say, and it is important that it extends to the quieter voices from whom we hear less often.

It is not appropriate, and I do not have time, to go through the whole consultation document today, but I would like to highlight some of its key components. A large population within the infected blood community currently does not receive any regular financial support. These are the people with hepatitis C. I believe it is important that everybody receives support from the new scheme and that it be linked to the impact infection has on their health. I therefore propose that all those registered with the schemes with hepatitis C at current stage 1 be offered an individual health-based assessment, completion of which would determine the level of annual payment received. This would also apply to anyone who newly joins the scheme.

The consultation document outlines our proposal that those currently receiving annual support should have their payments uplifted to £15,000 a year. Those who are co-infected and currently receive double payments would continue to do so. I often hear that people are unhappy about applying for discretionary charitable payments. I hope that the introduction of new regular annual payments will remove this requirement. I am keen that those who respond to the consultation take the opportunity to answer all the questions about the support proposed so that I can make informed final decisions on the shape of any new scheme once all the responses have been collected and analysed.

During the urgent question, I said I was interested in the opportunities offered by the advent of simpler and more effective treatments that can cure some people of hepatitis C. The NHS is at the start of its programme to roll out the new hepatitis C treatments previously approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. As Members will know, the NHS must prioritise treatment on clinical need and not on route of infection, which means that, although some in the infected blood community will be eligible for treatment right away, others might have to wait.

More than anything, I want, if we can, to give the chance to limit the impact of hepatitis C on the infected community by making an offer of treatment. Over recent months, I have received many letters from people expressing a wish to halt the progress of their infection—one of the many letters that particularly struck me asked simply: “Please make me well”—so my intention is that the new scheme will provide an opportunity to enhance access to treatment, especially for those who fall just short of the current NHS criteria. I hope that we can treat more people if finances allow. That is why the consultation is seeking views on offering treatment to those with hepatitis C in the infected blood community not yet receiving treatment on the NHS.

In keeping with the principle of offering choice where possible, I am pleased to announce that we are consulting on a choice of options for the bereaved. Currently, bereaved partners or spouses are eligible to apply for means-tested support from the charities. As I have said, I have heard concerns from many people who do not like having to apply for charity. With that in mind, the consultation offers the choice of continued access to discretionary support or a one-off lump-sum payment for the bereaved based on a multiple of their current discretionary support. There are questions on this in the consultation document, and I am keen to hear from those affected so that I can understand their preference.

Having listened to concerns about the complex nature of the five schemes, the consultation proposes that, following reform, there will be one scheme run by a single body with access to expert advice, including from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, so that we can keep pace with any new advances in treatment for hepatitis C and HIV that emerge.

On the next steps, the consultation will be published today on gov.uk and will run until 15 April. This is a 12-week consultation to ensure that all those who wish to respond have time to do so. The consultation document contains questions about the proposals on which I would welcome views. I recognise that there has been disappointment that we have not consulted sooner, but the outcome of the consultation will be crucial to informing our final decisions about how to proceed, and I give the House, and those affected, my commitment that we will proceed as rapidly as possible to implementation thereafter.

We need, as a priority, to make progress in rolling out the health assessments as quickly as possible to ensure that people get access to the support and clinical advice they need. I should be clear, however, that my intention is that annual payments for the current stage 1 cohort should be backdated to April 2016, regardless of when each individual’s assessment takes place.

This is the first time that the Government are consulting fully and widely with the entire affected community and all those who might have an interest on the future reform of the scheme. In developing the proposals to include within the consultation, I have taken account of points I have heard in debates here, of correspondence sent to me, of my discussions with the all-party group and of views gathered during pre-consultation engagement. The consultation is now open and it is my hope that all those affected by this tragedy will respond, and that we can move forward from here. I commend the statement to the House.