Tuesday, July 12, 2016

CAMPAIGN: Will Westminster chaos cause yet more pain for blood victims?

Those who lost their good health as a result of the blood contamination scandal say they fear the chaos in Westminster following the EU referendum could further delay their fight for justice.

And one leading Kent campaigner says further delay could deprive many the chance to ever see justice served as diseases they developed as a consequence claim their lives.

KoS has actively campaigned for the government to finally deliver a fair and sensible compensation settlement to those whose lives were forever changed after being infected by contaminated blood given to them by the NHS.

The majority of infections occurred during the 1970s and 80s when blood products – primarily used to treat haemophiliacs – were sourced from a variety of places.

Among them was blood coming out of the US where companies used donors which included drug addicts and prisoners.

Haemophiliacs suffer from a condition where their blood does not clot as it should. That means when they bleed often it cannot be stopped without treatment.

Many received, often as children, a blood product called Factor VIII. This they took as a temporary measure to allow their blood to clot and was self-administered in the main. But it was often infected with blood that carried the likes of hepatitis C and HIV.

It is estimated some 4,800 haemophiliacs were infected with hepatitis C, which causes damage to the liver often resulting in cancer, while 1,200 of those were also infected with HIV - the virus that leads to AIDS.

It is estimated some 2,000 have died as a consequence.

Despite an apology from prime minister David Cameron and a vow to re-evaluate the compensation payment system, so far campaigners have seen little change and calls for a public inquiry fall on deaf ears.

A consultation into the issue, which concluded in April, looks almost certain to suggest only a slight revision to compensation payments and not the lump sums to secure their future many desire.

Sue Threakall, of the campaign group Tainted Blood which represents victims, said: “The reaction to the consultation has been one of dumb despair even among seasoned campaigners.

“There’s absolute shock that a government that has been working with us and seemed to think they could get it right has got it so catastrophically wrong.

“It needs to go back to the drawing board. The government needs to say we got it wrong and we’re going to revisit this – not in six months or 12 months but now.”

Steve Dymond, 60, from Broadstairs, was infected with hepatitis C when he was young. It saw him cut his career in education short and robbed him of having children. He receives a little over £14,000 to support himself and his wife as a consequence and has no other income.

Speaking to KoS this week, he fears the chaos caused by Brexit may cause yet further delays as the Conservatives face the prospect of new leader, new cabinet and the complications of handling the realities of Brexit.

In addition, the Labour Party’s bitter in-fighting has seen shadow secretary Heidi Alexander resign.

Mr Dymond explained: “The fallout from a spat of political infighting which resembles a wet Friday afternoon nursery school class squabble about who has the brightest colour pencil, is set to heap yet more waves of prevarication and procrastination onto victims who have campaigned for justice and overdue compensation for more than 30 years.

“This bitter saga continues against a backdrop of human misery suffering and a relentlessly rising death toll.

“Visitors to the Kent County Show have endured certain discomforts over the years; whether it be the frustrations generated by the traffic or the uncertain climate; however disagreeable at the time, these experiences would seem to pale into insignificance compared with the never ending wait for the victims of the contaminated blood scandal to be granted just recognition for this treatment disaster and due compensation from a government proved liable time after time for visiting this devastation on the small vulnerable community that are haemophiliacs.

“Whitehall continues to crawl away from its responsibilities. The solemn pledges from a soon-to-be ex-prime minister David Cameron, in 2014 to a constituent haemophiliac ‘give me six months to sort this out’, to the House of Commons in March 2015 ‘as a wealthy country we will pay compensation to victims of contaminated blood for something that should not have happened’ now sound sickeningly hollow as he wimps out of public life for his own convenience.

“That a sordid punch up between politicians about the vital question of relations with the EU, should have degenerated into political and administrative paralysis set to last several years, will astound most people. It is Westminster’s own Operation Stack, paralysing much work in progress and unleashing chaos and uncertainty. A general election? A referendum result overturned by MPs? Reshuffles of ministers and shadow front bench? Officials snowed under by an administrative nightmare of untangling legislation and endless negotiations? A new Conservative leader with zero knowledge of the contaminated blood scandal and even less a public commitment to its just resolution?”

Speaking in the House of Commons this week, health minister Jane Ellison rebuked a claims by SNP MP Martyn Day the government was “dragging its feet” over the payments.

Conservative Ms Ellison said: “No one is dragging their feet and we are trying to get this matter sorted out. I have had a number of discussions with the cabinet secretary for health and sport, Shona Robison, most recently last Thursday.

“We are working together to facilitate the increased payments, using the current scheme administrator. We want the payments to be made as quickly as possible to people who were infected in Scotland and across the UK. Officials in the Department of Health... are working closely together to expedite the matter.”

The suggestion now is that they will be no official confirmation of the revised compensation scheme until after the summer recess. And for campaigners that will heighten fears the Tory leadership changes will create further delays; while all the time those who were infected with Hepatitis C or HIV are dying or facing serious illness as a consequence.

The question of justice for those victims of the contaminated blood scandal may prove as far from being suitably resolved as ever before.

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