Contaminated Blood and Blood Products

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 24th November 2016.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West 12:45 pm, 24th November 2016

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend 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.