Hepatitis C (Ex Gratia Payments)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 22nd January 2004.

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Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 2:30 pm, 22nd January 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive how many people will benefit from the planned hepatitis C ex gratia payment scheme. (S2O-1123)

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

We estimate that up to 600 people may claim in the early years, but it is not possible to give a definite number at this stage. The scheme will pay out to all those who can show that they are eligible. I will be making a joint announcement with my United Kingdom colleagues tomorrow.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

I welcome that reply. Is the minister aware of the hardship that is faced by many of those who suffer from hepatitis C, such as the young man in my constituency who cannot even get mortgage insurance? Does he agree that many of those people will require additional and on-going support?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

The fundamental principle has been that there should be a fair deal for the people who contracted hepatitis C in that way. Without going into the details, which members will understand have to be announced on a UK basis tomorrow, I would like to say that we should be proud that the whole process was started here. The fundamentals of the Scottish scheme will be announced with the UK scheme tomorrow, and I think that everyone in the Executive and in the Parliament can be proud of that. The fundamental principle is that there should be a fair deal, but we must obviously take account of other demands on the health budget. I have no doubt that some people tomorrow will say, "It should have been more." However, I think that a significant payment will be made to all those who are eligible.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Will the minister tell us in advance of the announcement that will be made tomorrow whether he has decided to recognise the plight of the families who have lost loved ones to that terrible disease and accept that he has a moral obligation to those families to include them in the financial assistance package?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

The fundamental principle is still as we outlined it and the scheme will apply to people who are still alive and suffering in that way. There will be some detailed changes to the eligibility criteria and I assure members that everybody will be sent the details of that. There will be some changes in the detail, but the fundamental framework of the scheme will be as we announced some time ago.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

Will the minister take action to get a more accurate estimate of the number of people suffering from hepatitis C in Scotland, especially as the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health says that its figures may be a several-fold underestimate? What assurance can he give that interferon alpha and ribavirin combination therapy is available for all hepatitis C sufferers in Scotland uniformly throughout each health board area?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

There is clearly a wider agenda in terms of care and treatment for all people who suffer from hepatitis C. When we had a debate on the matter two years ago, that was one of the key issues that I highlighted. We wanted a fair deal for those who had contracted hepatitis C in a specific way, but we also wanted to improve care and treatment for all people who have hepatitis C. A great deal of work has been done on finding out more of the data to which Keith Raffan refers to and on improving and making more widely available the kind of therapies that he describes.