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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 20:18 GMT
Minister 'waiting' for blood victim deaths
Blood bag
Opposition parties have called for payouts to be made
Ministers have been accused of deliberately delaying a decision on compensation for NHS patients who contracted hepatitis C through contaminated blood products.

Members of the Haemophilia Society said the Scottish Executive was probably stalling on the issue to ensure that more people died without receiving compensation.

The accusation was levelled on the same day in which Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm outlined a four-point plan to improve support for those with the disease.

But he failed to give a firm response on demands for financial compensation despite calls to the contrary from pressure groups and the Scottish Parliament's health committee.

Malcolm Chisholm
Malcolm Chisholm: "Equitable system"
Founder member of the Haemophilia Society, Bruce Norval, himself a hepatitis C sufferer, said: "I think it is just another way of ensuring that more of us are dead and not picking up any compensation at the end of the day.

"We need a settlement for compensation. We're talking about a basic amount of money that will protect the roof over my head and make sure my wife can afford to bury me and put a stone over my grave."

Another member, Phil Dolan, added: "If it is going to be an expert group to look at the problems in the NHS, we might as well forget the whole thing.

"It will fudge the whole issue. Six months will be too late for a whole range of people who will be dead by then."

Earlier in the day Mr Chisholm detailed the remit of an expert group which has been set up to examine the issue and report back within six months.

Resource centre

The group will have six months to decide if cash should be given to people accidentally harmed by NHS treatment.

Other measures introduced by the health minister include:

  • An expert study on possible no-fault compensation;

  • help sufferers to secure life insurance and mortgages;

  • research into spread of hepatitis C;

  • possible national resource centre for sufferers.

But Mr Chisholm said it would be unfair to compensate those with hepatitis and not other groups.

"On the question of compensation, I too am interested primarily in achieving a fair and equitable outcome," he said.

"But crucially, I want an outcome that is fair for the many, not just the few.

Demonstrators outside parliament
Some sufferers gathered outside parliament
"That is why we do not believe that it is fair to look at the question of compensation to hepatitis C sufferers in isolation.

"If we are to have a new compensation system here in Scotland, we must have one that is consistent, equitable and transparent for all."

Before the minister addressed MSPs a small group of hepatitis C sufferers demonstrated outside the Scottish Parliament.

It is estimated that about 500 Scots contracted the liver disease from blood transfusions and blood treatments before screening measures were adopted in the early 1990s.

The parliament's health committee said in a report last October that there was a moral case for compensation.

'Moral authority'

Margaret Smith, the committee convener said: "The moral case is that these people have been affected through no fault of their own.

"We can say it is no fault of the NHS, but nevertheless these people undertook blood transfusions and blood products by clinicians.

"As a result they contracted hepatitis C and are living with the consequences."

Margaret Smith
Margaret Smith: Put forward a "moral case"
Some sufferers had been denied legal aid and recourse to the Consumers Protection Act if they contracted the virus after 1988, Mrs Smith added.

Since this was the case, they deserved to have the "moral authority of their case recognised by the giving of financial assistance from the Scottish Executive".

A ruling by the High Court in England last year paved the way for compensation payments to 114 victims south of the border.

Following that judgement Mr Chisholm's predecessor, Susan Deacon, said compensation would be paid to those in Scotland who contracted the disease after March 1988 and raised actions under the Consumer Protection Act.

However, those settlements would only apply to about 20 cases.

Mrs Smith said: "Those who contracted hepatitis C are calling for compassion and justice and I believe that the health committee report would deliver that to them."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC's Glenn Campbell reports
"The committee concluded there is a moral case for financial assistance"
Forbes MacFall reports
"Margaret Smith hopes that MSPs will exert pressure on the health minister to think again"
See also:

11 Dec 01 | Scotland
Payments for virus victims ruled out
29 Aug 01 | Scotland
Pay-out move for hepatitis victims
23 May 01 | Scotland
Minister refuses blood payout calls
08 Apr 99 | Medical notes
Blood: The risks of infection
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