Contaminated Blood and Blood Products

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:38 pm on 24th November 2016.

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Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 1:38 pm, 24th November 2016

I congratulate Diana Johnson and all the members of the all-party parliamentary group for haemophilia and contaminated blood on helping to secure this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for providing time for it. It has been a highly informed, very personal and moving debate, but it has also been non-partisan. I thank all Members from across the House for the constructive way in which they have approached the debate.

I would like to begin by formally adding my personal apology to all those who have been affected by these tragic circumstances and the impact that this has had on so many families. I thank all colleagues’ constituents for their bravery in allowing their personal circumstances to be shared in the House today. It brings this debate to exactly where it should be, reminding us all what we are trying to achieve through the process. The importance of that cannot be overstated. I wish I could refer to all the constituents who were mentioned today. I listed them, but that would take most of the debating time that we have today, so I say thank you to all those who allowed their stories to be told. That is exactly why the Government are introducing the reforms we have been debating today to existing support schemes, alongside a commitment within this spending review period of up to £125 million until 2020-21 for those affected, which will more than double the annual spend over the next five years.

At the beginning, however, we should be up front in recognising that nothing can make up for the suffering and loss these families have experienced, and no financial support can change what has happened to them. However, I hope all of those here today will recognise that the support provided is significantly more than any previous Administration have provided, and recognise how seriously the Government take this issue. I would like to join colleagues in paying tribute to the previous Prime Minister and to my predecessor, my hon. Friend Jane Ellison, for all their work on the issue. I reiterate their statement that the aim of this support scheme is that no one will be worse off.

It is, as many colleagues have said, time for our reforms to bring an end to the tortured road that far too many of those affected have been down. It is time for a more comprehensive and accessible scheme that gives those affected their dignity back. However, as I hope is clear from the debate, not all the details are yet resolved. I hope to answer as many questions as I can today, but I am certain that the noble Lord Prior will be listening closely to the debate, and he will be in contact with all those here today to make sure we can resolve details I cannot get to in the time available.

Let me turn to where we are. The reforms guarantee that all those who are chronically affected will, for the first time, receive a regular annual payment in recognition of what has happened to them. That includes all the 2,400 individuals with hepatitis C stage 1, who previously received no ongoing payment, but who will now expect to receive £3,500 a year.

Increases to existing annual payments have also been announced. These are not designed in themselves to guarantee a reasonable standard of living. The package needs to be considered in the context of the whole range of support that is available for the patient group, including support being exempt for the purposes of tax, and benefits being claimed by beneficiaries of the schemes, as Chris Stephens rightly mentioned.

I would like to address a couple of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North about finances. We do expect to spend all of the budget allocated to the scheme in the year, but the budget for the scheme does come within the Department of Health’s budget, not the Treasury budget, so if there is an underspend in any one year, the money will remain in the Department of Health. If any payments that should be made within that year fall into the next year, we can take that money forward.

I would also like to address the concerns that have been raised about the tendering for the scheme. The shadow Minister is, I am afraid, not quite correct that Capita and Atos have already bid to administer the scheme. The invitation to tender has not yet been issued, so no initial bids have been received so far. We intend to issue the invitation to tender shortly, and I am absolutely sure that, as the tender is being designed, the concerns that have been raised in the debate will be heard, and that the concerns about trust and the history of this situation will be well understood by all those involved in the design.