Contaminated Blood

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 12th April 2016.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities) 5:58 pm, 12th April 2016

I am very glad to be able to participate in this debate. I thank Diana Johnson for securing it. This is a very important debate.

I am slightly sad to have to say this, but it is a shame that the debate is happening at this time of day. I know that constituents of many MPs around the country have travelled a long way to come to Parliament today. Some of my constituents were in the Gallery earlier, having got up at 3 o’clock this morning to come down from Glasgow, but they have had to leave to fly back up and go back to work. [Interruption.] I appreciate that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Jane Ellison, says, it was the Speaker’s decision. I am just reflecting on the fact that that is quite sad, and perhaps the procedures of the House should be looked at, particularly when already vulnerable constituents who do not have an awful lot of money have had to travel a great distance to hear what their MPs have to say. I went to join the lobby outside earlier this afternoon and spent a lot of time speaking to people, and their sense of frustration at having to wait so long for justice was compounded by their not being able to stay for the whole of this debate, after waiting for so long for a chance to come to the House to listen to us.

To move on to the more substantive issues, many of us are wearing ribbons given to us by the campaigners, so I will tell members of the public who may be watching at home what the ribbons mean. The red is for sufferers of HIV, the yellow is for people who have suffered from hep C, and the black is to remember those who have died waiting during this process. It is very profound to see the number of people who have lost their lives, over the piece, waiting for justice and for some answers.

The constituent of mine who was here today is Maria Armour. She contracted hep C in 1981 when she suffered a miscarriage in hospital and needed a blood transfusion. She did not find out that she had been infected until she turned about 35; she took ill and had to find out what was wrong. People did not know and could not tell her. She had to wait two years for a diagnosis, when she found out that she had hep C. The treatment that she began at that time further compounded her ill health. She now has fibromyalgia and lupus, and also has issues with her bowels. That causes her great distress. She cannot go out and her life is on hold.

Despite all that, Maria is a very inspiring individual. I spoke to her today. She continues to campaign. She, like many people, has dedicated her life to others, and now wants to be able to spend time with her family rather than having to continue to fight this fight. I asked her what she would like to be highlighted this afternoon in the brief time available to us. She said that she is looking for fair and equal treatment. She does not want to be a charity case—to have to go to funds such as the Caxton Foundation, or send them begging letters for very simple things that most of us would take for granted.

In particular, Maria mentioned that she was turning 50. She applied for funds for a dress to wear to her 50th birthday party, because, unlike many of us, she did not have the general funds to go out to the shop and buy herself a dress. She has to put in three quotes for that dress—they choose which dress she gets—and gets vouchers to pay for it. She mentioned that when, in the past, she has asked for furniture, she had to have vouchers, so she had to go to the shop to buy the furniture and count out all those vouchers in the shop, in front of people, to pay for it. That is very stigmatising. It is unfair that people have to do that, and do not get money, which the rest of us have to go and buy the things we need to make our lives easier. She has a lack of choices in her life. She cannot go on holiday with her grandchildren, as she would like to. She does not have the funds to do all the things she would like.

It would be easier for many people in Maria’s situation if they got the fair funding that they deserve. I am glad that the Scottish Government have recognised that funding should be available at a higher level. It has been said that it is a shame that constituents in England, and the few in Scotland who are affected, will not get that higher level, but that is not an unfairness on the part of the Scottish Government. They have recognised the issue, listened to people, consulted, and done a lot of work, and have decided what they think is fair. The ball is now in the UK Government’s court—they need to decide what is fair.

Some people have waited a long time—in the case raised by my hon. Friend Dr Monaghan, 42 years—since the initial infection. They need to have what is fair and what is due to them. They are not at fault here. We need to recognise that and find the funds to enable those people to live their lives with dignity as we wish to live our own lives. People should not in any case have to write begging letters to get what they need to live their life with dignity. I commend that point to the House.