David Cameron recently made a public apology in the House of Commons for what was called “the worst treatment disaster in the history of Britain’s public healthcare”.
He was referring to a period in the 1970s and early 1980s in which the NHS did not have a proper screening programme for obtaining blood products, which were often taken from high risks donors, such as prostitutes and intravenous drug users. As a consequence blood products became infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, and over 7,000 people, many of them haemophiliacs, went on to contract HIV and Hepatitis after being given contaminated blood products during the course of their treatment. Approximately 2,000 of those patients went on to die.
No fault Government compensation schemes were put in place for patients who were infected prior to September 1991. After then it was deemed that effective measures were in place, but there are still reported cases of contamination which are not covered by the no fault schemes. Moreover, for those who are still seeking compensation for pre-1991 injury, the compensation schemes are difficult to navigate and often woefully inadequate.
The Prime Minister’s apology came alongside the publication of the Penrose Inquiry – a £12m investigation into the scandal which was initiated by the Scottish Government. The only clear recommendation from the report was that Hepatitis C tests should be given to all those who received blood transfusions before 1991.
Tory MP Rory Stewart called for proper compensation for the families affected by the scandal, and David Cameron conceded that:-
“It is difficult to imagine the feelings of unfairness that people must feel at being infected by something like Hepatitis C or HIV as a result of a totally unrelated treatment within the NHS …”
He went on to say that the Government would provide up to £25m during 2015 – 2016 to support any transitional arrangements for a better compensation payment system, and that if he is re-elected as Prime Minister his Government will respond to the findings of the report as a matter of priority. Ed Milliband, for Labour, gave the same commitment.
Cynics might say that the politicians make many promises just before an election. Let us hope that these ones are kept, and that the principles of fairness and accountability for the victims of all types of clinical negligence are upheld and protected by whichever Government is elected.
In the meantime, it is worth remembering that for people who have received infected blood products, and have become sick as a result, it is still possible to bring a High Court claim for compensation, provided that proceedings are issued within 3 years of the date upon which the infection or injury was discovered.