As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on contaminated blood and blood products, secured by Diane Johnson, MP for Hull North, who has led on this issue for a number of years. In her speech, Sharon spoke about the support given to those affected by this scandal under the new system and those missed out, the involvement of private for-profit companies in the administering of payments, and also the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel.
You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Contaminated Blood and Blood Products Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16
Speech pasted below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to speak in such an important debate. I want, first and foremost, to thoroughly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who for many years now has championed and pushed on this vital matter. Her work cannot and must not go unnoticed or unrecognised. I am sure people across the country, and indeed across the House, will want to join in thanking her.
The experiences of those men and women affected by this awful scandal should never be out of our minds as we continue to do all that we can to support them. Doing all we can for them is paramount, knowing full well that whatever we do will not be enough to give them back their life or a life without suffering or pain. HIV and hepatitis are terrible conditions. Someone living with HIV or hepatitis will face fears of developing other conditions and have to face the stigma that comes with these conditions. This debate is welcome, as it is the first time the House has had the chance to debate the new scheme since it was announced and to continue to hold the Government to account to do more. It is important that we now have the chance to discuss that in a considered and comprehensive manner.
In my contribution, I want to touch upon three areas: first, the current funding system in England; secondly, the involvement of private companies to administer support to beneficiaries; and, thirdly, the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel to recognise the failures of the system that these people have had to live with.
It was announced earlier in the year that a new financial arrangements system would be introduced, and a public consultation was conducted to get views and opinions on how that would take shape. Although there has been a welcome, if somewhat modest, increase in the annual payment to people with HIV, hepatitis C at stage 2 and those who are co-infected, as well as the first guaranteed ongoing payments for people with stage 1 hepatitis C, it is concerning that these payments fall short of what has been drawn up in Scotland.
Also, the current English system makes no mention of support for people who have been cleared of hepatitis C prior to the chronic stage but who, despite fighting off the disease, may still exhibit symptoms ranging from fatigue to mental health issues and even diabetes. These people have never been entitled to any support, and continue to get none. The scheme does not include support for those infected with other viruses, such as hepatitis B, D or E, and for those people it has meant continuous monitoring of their liver function. It is estimated that that group is extremely small and, according to the Haemophilia Society, would be a minimal cost to the Department of Health.
We find that the new scheme does little or nothing for bereaved partners, parents or children of those who have sadly died from diseases contracted through the contaminated blood scandal. The new system should have gone a long way to supporting those various groups within the affected community. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance that those concerns have been noted, and that she will go away and look into what more can be done to help the people I have just mentioned.
There are also concerns regarding the discretionary payments, which, thankfully, were saved, despite it being announced in the consultation earlier this year that they could be scrapped. That should be welcomed, but there is a clear concern that the discretionary support will not go far enough to improve the support on offer for those with HIV or those who are co-infected. The Government need to consider that impact and what more they plan to do. It is worrying that the Government have yet to make clear the minimum and maximum discretionary support that people will be able to receive.
I understand that the Reference Group on Infected Blood is currently considering that policy and that we will hear more from it in the new year, but would it not be worth while for the Minister to give us some indication now, so that those who will depend on this money in the years to come can have some reassurance, especially as we enter the festive period? There are many questions to be answered. That is why I hope that in the time allowed the Minister will give us in the House and those who will be watching the debate the reassurances that they need.
The new scheme will replace the current system so that the five trusts across the country that administer the payments are amalgamated into one, and I know that that has been welcomed. However, there is one very concerning point that was so eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North when she opened the debate and which needs to be addressed by the Minister. I refer to the potential involvement of a private sector company, such as Atos or Capita, which both bid in the tender process. The Minister no doubt expects me to make the typical party political point, but I am not going to do that.
That potential involvement was never included in any talks with the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and blood contamination, no consultation was held with the affected community, and there was no mention of it in the Department’s response to the survey, yet we see it happening now. The concern here is that the many thousands of people affected by the mistake—which, it must be remembered, was often made by US private companies—feel aggrieved at the potential involvement of a profit-making private company. That resentment is justified, especially as it was the mistake of a private company that put them in their current situation. There should be no profit making when it comes to compensating for the failures of the private sector. That was highlighted well by my hon. Friend in her speech and was also touched on by the former Health Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt).
The issue was highlighted too by the APPG’s survey of nearly 1,000 people affected by the scandal, who clearly had concerns about the involvement of a profit-making private company. It is important that those affected have their say in the administration of the payments and support. I would therefore be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on their involvement, as we have seen in Scotland, where there has been an alternative scheme operator which includes beneficiary involvement. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why private involvement is now being considered, but was never consulted upon.
My final point is about co-ordinating an independent panel, such as in the case of Hillsborough. The Prime Minister promised in September that she would keep an open mind about an independent panel, but she has, sadly, quashed the idea. The rationale given is that we have had two public inquiries into this matter already, by Lord Archer and Lord Penrose. That may be the case, but it is important that we consider the approach to helping people to get the justice they deserve, especially as it is clear that neither of the inquiries met the needs of the affected community. The two inquiries were narrow in their focus and were not about apportioning blame. The affected community is not calling for that. What it is calling for, which is strongly supported by the Opposition, is a truth and reconciliation process and public disclosure of the failures, which those affected rightly deserve.
On the need for some vehicle of inquiry into the background, in an intervention, I pointed out that, in the Irish Republic, the right to compensation was established in 1995. There was an Act in 1997, but it was following a tribunal of inquiry that the state admitted liability, so there was further legislation in 2002. The liability of the Irish state rested on the fact that the tribunal found that the state knew that there was a risk and carried it because the UK and others were prepared to carry the same risk.
I am grateful for that important intervention, which emphasises why we need an inquiry into issues such as the one that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
I am sure the Minister can understand the concerns across the House and out in the community among the people affected and their families. Before she replies, I ask her not to adopt the same language as that used by the Prime Minister, who attributed the lack of support for an independent panel to the delay in the introduction of a support system. An independent panel with clearly defined terms of reference would not impede the development and implementation of the new system. I hope the Minister will keep that in mind when she responds, and recognise how important it is for those affected to get the reconciliation for which they have fought so long.
The Government must be committed for reforming the system and listening—must be commended, rather, for reforming the system and listening. I know they are committed to that. However, this is such an important issue that we must get it right, and once more I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North for her steadfast campaigning on this issue over many years. I am sure the community will also recognise that fact. Those people who have had their lives marked so significantly by the failures of the past should rightly be compensated and respected. Those who have died because of that serious mistake, those who are still living with the repercussions of the mistake, and those who have thankfully fought it off but still live with the impact of it all deserve respect and dignity, and I hope that in her reply the Minister will give them just that.