Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

High Court to review vCJD victims compensation scheme

Claire McVey
Claire McVey was just 15 years old when she died from vCJD in 2000

A Devon woman whose daughter died from the brain disease vCJD is leading a High Court case against the health secretary over a compensation scheme.

Fifteen-year-old Claire McVey from Kentisbury Ford, near Barnstaple, died from the human form of BSE in 2000.

Her mother, Annie, is challenging the government's compensation scheme, claiming it is highly complicated.

She has also described ministers' decision not to radically change it as "irrational" and "unlawful".

In 2002 the government set up a compensation fund for the victims of vCJD and their families.

A sum of £67.5 million was set aside for the first 250 cases and the scheme was to be reviewed if this number was exceeded.

'Too complicated'

It was in part a no-fault lump sum and in part a discretionary scheme to acknowledge the care given to loved ones with the disease.

The vCJD Trust was set up to manage it but the scheme was complex, cost millions of pounds in legal fees and led to long delays.

In April 2006 Sir Robert Owen, Chairman of the vCJD Trust, expressed his concern in an interview with the BBC, stating that the costs reflected the complexity of the Trust fund.

He added that it was accepted that this was not the way such a trust fund ought to be set up for the future, stating that it was "far too complicated".

His views were backed by Mrs McVey, who claims that the difficulties of claiming for discretionary payments compounded the anguish of the families.

Annie McVey
I would like the judge to say this has been a hellish time, that it was irresponsible for the secretary of state to have done this
Annie McVey, mother of vCJD victim

"We were already in a state of distress having lost somebody," she said.

"We were then given forms where we had to itemise how much care we did, what time we did it, when we did it, who did it, how much pain they were in, how much we saw them in that, how much it cost us to travel to hospital, providing parking tickets.

"It just became overwhelming.

"Once we had finished one questionnaire another one would come through the door - it was an administrative nightmare."

In March 2007 the trustees of the fund proposed radical changes to the scheme which they put to the health secretary but more than two years later, in June 2009, these were turned down.

Mrs McVey and the other families have now been granted a High Court judicial review.

At the hearing next week they will claim the delay of successive health secretaries to make a decision on the changes was "unreasonable", and that the rejection of a thorough overhaul of the compensation scheme was "irrational" and "unlawful".

Annie McVey's own claim has been settled but she says she wants to make the process of claiming for just compensation easier for distressed and bereaved families in future.

"I would like the judge to say this has been a hellish time, that it was irresponsible for the secretary of state to have done this," she said.

"It was irrational decisions that were made and they need to go back and review them... the time has come to put an end to this."

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