News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Scotland breaks rank to offer compensation to hepatitis C victims

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 08 February 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:303
  1. Bryan Christie
  1. Edinburgh

    Scottish ministers have signalled their intention to compensate people who contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood products, in the latest health policy split to emerge in the United Kingdom. A compensation package has already been ruled out in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

    The Scottish Executive is prepared to make £15m ($25m; ‡23m) available to help 568 people who are registered as having contracted hepatitis C before screening was introduced to remove it from blood supplies. It is not planned to offer payments to dependants of infected people who have already died.

    However, the scheme needs the approval of the UK government, which may challenge the legitimacy of the Scottish Executive to make such payments. Although responsibility for health is fully devolved to the Scottish parliament, benefits for injury and illness are the responsibility of the UK government. Officials in Edinburgh and London are currently involved in discussions over the matter.

    The Scottish Executive is also seeking a guarantee that the UK government will not negate the payments by clawing back the money given to infected people by stopping social security benefits.

    The Scottish decision to offer payments comes after a report from an independent expert group that concluded that Scotland had a duty to compensate people whose health had been affected as a result of contracting hepatitis C through NHS treatment. It recommended a compensation package of up to £89m. The proposed package is less generous and is based on lump sum payments of £20 000 to everyone with a diagnosis of hepatitis C, with an additional £25 000 for people who develop life threatening conditions.

    The move has been welcomed by the Haemophilia Society, although its chief executive, Karin Pappenheim, said she was disappointed that the suggested figures fell far short of the payments proposed by the expert group.

    “We regret that absolutely no provision has been made for the surviving dependants of those who have already died of hepatitis C. The Haemophilia Society believes that all those who have suffered as a result of the contaminated blood tragedy should be offered meaningful financial assistance.”

    Ms Pappenheim said it is important that the problems surrounding the payments in Scotland are resolved quickly to allow people infected with the virus to be helped. The society put forward proposals to the UK government last year for a compensation package based on a scheme already operating in Canada. It was estimated to cost £52m a year but has been rejected by ministers.

    If the payments go ahead in Scotland, it is likely that pressure will increase on the UK government to offer compensation. A previous decision by the Scottish Executive to introduce free, personal home care for elderly people led to demands for similar action in the rest of the United Kingdom.

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