I will come on to drugs and access to drugs, although perhaps not quite in the detail that my hon. Friend seeks. I will now make progress and not take any interventions for a while to ensure that I get to the points that Members have raised.
Suffice it to say, I was strongly aware, as I was present for most of the urgent question on
The Government are continuing to work with the devolved Administrations on the issue, and I hope that the hon. Member for South Down agrees that we should work as much as possible towards a four-nations approach. I suggest that, as part of that, it would be helpful if she shared her knowledge and insight with Ministers in Northern Ireland. We continue to do so at official level and we will ensure that appropriate ministerial exchanges happen.
While decisions have not yet been made on what the new scheme will look like, the House should be assured that, given the level of unhappiness with the existing schemes, we are considering root and branch changes, which I know is what campaigners are calling for. I would, however, like to be clear that while we are working to establish a full and fair resolution, liability has not been established in the majority of cases, so it would not be appropriate to talk about payments in terms of compensation, particularly on the scale that some campaigners and colleagues envisage. I know that Members are not happy with that, but I need to say that for the record. We will continue to fund ex-gratia payments, but we will look to reshape those following consultation. It is my hope that, pending decisions after the consultation, transition to a new scheme can begin from April 2016.
While many individuals may feel frustrated at the expected timescale for scheme reform, it is important that we take time to get things right, because we need suitable and lasting changes. That includes identifying all the complexities involved in making changes to a system of support such as this, and the need in due course to consider consultation responses.
As colleagues have mentioned, in March 2015, the Prime Minister announced that up to £25 million would be allocated to support transition to a reformed scheme. As previously stated, I confirm that we do not intend to use that for the administrative costs that might be associated with reform of the existing schemes. We expect to announce our plans for that money once we have a better understanding of what the wider scheme reform might comprise. If it is necessary to roll that money into the next financial year, we will do so.
The announcement by the Prime Minister on the allocation of the £25 million came on the day the Penrose inquiry final report was published. I am aware that many campaigners have written to their MPs regarding the Government’s response to Penrose. We have fulfilled our commitment to implement the recommendation in the Penrose report to take
“all reasonable steps to offer an HCV test to everyone…who had a blood transfusion before September 1991 and who has not been tested for HCV” by reminding GPs, nurses and other clinical staff of the matter, along with the NHS guidance to offer a hepatitis C test to those at risk. I can give Members details if they are interested in how we have done that. Those reminders will act to ensure that awareness is significantly increased across England and will help to identify anyone who is currently unaware that they may have been infected with hepatitis C. However, the House should be reassured that look-back exercises took place in 1991 and 1995 to try to identify those individuals, so I would not expect the recent action to result in significantly increased uptake of hepatitis C testing.