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Legal challenge on contaminated blood pay-outs

Motion in Parliament calls for new review

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 15 January 2015

MPs will today debate a motion calling for a further review of the circumstances relating to contaminated blood, while victims of the disaster launch a legal challenge.

The debate occurs on the same day that three men have launched a legal case challenging the lawfulness of the payment scheme set up by the government after patients contracted Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) from contaminated blood or blood products provided by the NHS during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The three victims, who are taking this case on an anonymous basis, claim the present scheme discriminates against them for having contracted HCV by paying them far less than those victims who contracted HIV.

They contend that paying them far less than victims who carry another equally life-threatening virus is unlawful discrimination.

In the 1970s to early 1990s, a number of NHS patients, mostly haemophilia sufferers, were provided with contaminated blood by the NHS and, as a direct result, contracted one or both of the blood-borne viruses, HIV and HCV. More than 4,500 patients contracted one or both of these diseases. Over 2,000 are thought to have died as a result of the catastrophe. 

Lord Robert Winston described it as “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service.”

Successive governments have accepted that the failure by the NHS was sufficiently grave to justify regular payments being made to the victims.

However, patients who carry the HIV virus as a result of the contamination are paid substantially more than victims who carry the HCV virus.

In addition, a far lower level of payments is also provided to the dependents of those who died as a result of contracting HCV from NHS contaminated blood as compared to the dependents of those who died as a result of contracting HIV.

Rosa Curling a lawyer in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day, who is representing the three men, said: “Both HIV and HCV are life threatening, life-long chronic conditions. These viruses both sadly have serious implications for those who carry them and, in a proportion of cases, will lead to the death of the patient.

“We believe it is clearly unlawful that one group of sufferers of a serious virus, contracted through the same NHS disaster, are treated differently on account of their disability.

“The Secretary of State for Health is under a legal duty to remedy this injustice and provide for equality between the HIV and HCV schemes.”

The letter asks for a response from the Secretary of State, within 14 days of the letter before action. Leigh Day has instructed David Lock QC and Alistair Mills of Landmark Chambers to act on behalf of the HCV victims. 

Opening today’s debate in Parliament, Mr Alistair Burt, Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, will launch the following motion: “That this House supports a further review of the circumstances surrounding the passing of infection via blood products to those with haemophilia and others during the 1970s and 1980s; notes the recent report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood into the support arrangements provided for those who contracted blood-borne viruses as a result; also notes that the Penrose Inquiry into these events will shortly be publishing its findings in Scotland; further notes that those who contracted viruses and their partners and dependants continue to be profoundly affected by what happened; therefore welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment to look again at this issue; and calls on the Government to respond positively to the APPG report and engage actively with those affected with a view to seeking closure to these long standing events.”

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