Victims of contaminated NHS blood launch legal case

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Three men who contracted hepatitis C from contaminated imported blood have begun a legal case in the UK to challenge the compensation scheme.

They say it is unfair under disability discrimination because other patients in the same scandal have more favourable terms.

A new parliamentary report says around 7,500 patients were infected by imported blood products.

The government said it was considering improvements to the support system.

The three men, who are pursuing the case anonymously, claim the compensation scheme discriminates against them for having the hepatitis C virus, by paying them far less than patients with HIV receive.

Just under 6,000 people have been identified as having contracted hepatitis C and more than 1,500 others the virus which can lead to Aids, according to the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood.

More than 2,000 patients are thought to have died as a result of what has been called “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”.

“We believe it is clearly unlawful that one group of sufferers of a serious virus are treated differently.” – Rosa CurlingLawyer, Leigh Day

The report says thousands of people in the UK – many of them with haemophilia – were infected when they were treated with blood products imported from the US in the 1970s and 80s.

An independent inquiry report six years ago described the events as a “horrific human tragedy”.

Lawyer Rosa Curling, from the law firm Leigh Day, is representing the three men.

She told BBC News: “Both HIV and hepatitis C virus are life-threatening, life-long chronic conditions.

“These viruses both sadly have serious implications for those who carry them and, in a proportion of cases, will lead to the death of the patient.

“We believe it is clearly unlawful that one group of sufferers of a serious virus, contracted through the same NHS disaster, are treated differently on account of their disability.”

Successive governments have set up five different trusts to pay compensation to patients who were treated with the blood products.

Leigh Day says the discrimination goes beyond the lifetime of the victims, because dependents of those who die after contracting hepatitis C also receive lower payments.

The law firm has sent a detailed legal letter, asking the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to take action to correct the anomalies between the schemes.

The “letter before action” asks for a response within 14 days, before the possibility of further legal proceedings in the High Court through judicial review.

Ms Curling added: “Our clients wish to avoid litigation if this is possible.

“We want the chance to sit down with Jeremy Hunt, and obtain a commitment from him urgently to put things right.”

NHS treatment ‘devastated lives’

The APPG report highlights how most people with hepatitis C receive no ongoing payments, and they feel as though they have to beg for discretionary payments.

It recommends that payments to people infected through contaminated blood are at a level which lifts them out of poverty.

The issue is the subject of a backbench Commons debate today.

Liz Carroll, Chief Executive of the Haemophilia Society, said: “We speak to families affected by this scandal on a daily basis. Many are living in poverty, unable to pay everyday bills.

“Some live in damp conditions due to household repairs waiting to be funded, going back several years.

“Others are unable to prove they were infected by NHS treatment as their medical records are missing.

“NHS treatment devastated many lives. Now is the time to right this wrong and enable them to live with dignity.”

The Penrose Inquiry in Scotland is due to report imminently – this will be the first statutory inquiry looking into government culpability for the problem.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This is a very serious issue and we are looking at possible improvements to the system of providing support to those affected.

“For legal reasons we are unable to comment further on this specific case.”

Story via BBC

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