We come into politics not for title or high office, but because we care and want to make a difference to people’s lives. If I ever get round to writing a list of my political heroes, my hon. Friend Diana Johnson has secured her place on it for all she has done for the many people affected by this—not just those who have been infected, but their families and loved ones, and people grieving the loss of someone who they thought would have longer than they had. A big difference is being made for them, but we still have a long way to go to secure real justice.
I am here to represent my constituent Alex Smith. He is infected with hepatitis C. That is bad in itself, but to add insult to that his wife died from the same infection, which was contracted from a blood transfusion while giving birth. He has suffered the loss of his wife, he has raised children by himself, he has been ill, and he has not been able to work. I resent the fact that the approach to this feels inhumane. It feels as though the starting point is how much money the Government are willing to pay rather than looking at things from the point of view of a human being.
I really struggle with the idea that the best on offer is to enable the victims of blood contamination to live just above the poverty line. The hopes, dreams, ambitions and potential of so many people have been ruined not just by the contamination, but by the treatment they have received from the hospitals when trying to find out information and get hold of their medical records, through poor diagnosis and treatment, and in trying to get justice and fair funding so that they can live a decent life.
It is more than just the infection that has now taken hold of people; it is the whole issue and the way it has been handled. It has dominated the lives of tens of thousands of people. Their lives have been put on hold while they have tried to get answers and justice. They have tried to just about keep their heads above water, but sometimes the bailiffs knock on the door or the red letter comes because they are unable to pay the utility or council tax bill or the rent.
I feel that the Government have a duty. They should not be held accountable for what went on in the ’70s and ’80s —we cannot expect that of them, although we obviously owe an apology on behalf of the nation—but we can judge them by their response today. I feel that their response lacks humanity and lacks recognition of the pain and suffering so many have gone through. They seem unwilling to provide answers and justice to the people affected.
I absolutely support the call for an independent inquiry. There are many questions that still need to be answered, not just for the victims and their families, but so that we can make sure the same mistakes do not happen again. I read the Manchester Evening News yesterday which told of an excellent but heart-breaking investigation that was carried out into how patients were treated by the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. There were stories about children who died as a result of ill treatment. What was most hurtful was not just the poor treatment, but the fact that the hospital did not face up to the mistakes it had made and tried to block information from coming out. When the journalist tried to get that information it was withheld and efforts were frustrated. The information needed to be released in the public interest.
That is the experience of many people who are affected by blood contamination. When they requested information they ought to have been entitled to—medical records, details of who knew what and when—they were frustrated by the very organisations and institutions responsible for the infection in the first place. That is a gross injustice to those trying to make sense of what happened to them and to move on in their life. So many of them still cannot see a future, and the Government have taken far too long to come forward with a comprehensive plan to address the questions and give the answers that are very much needed.
I urge the Government, for no party political gain whatever—this is beyond party politics; this is about human beings—to come forward with a properly funded and logical scheme that does not just keep people out of poverty, but reflects the fact that they have the right to a decent and fulfilling life. The answer should really unpeel the lid and get the information people desperately want to know about who knew what and when and how this happened. We need to learn lessons so that this does not happen again.
We are debating this specific issue today, but there are many people who are affected by poor public service and who are frustrated when they try to get answers. If there is one thing this place can do, it is apologise if an apology is needed, but more than that, we can be the champions for justice and help people get the answers they deserve.