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Lord Bradshaw: I hear what the Minister says. I have taken part in many consultation meetings involving the public. They are generally led by the police authority, and a fairly senior policeman is usually in attendance at such meetings. However, it is usually the responsibility of the police authority to produce the plans. It is its plan. If I seem to be somewhat obdurate, I apologise, but I am sticking very firmly to any measures which undermine the place of police authorities and thereby the local communities and elected representatives who form a majority of the authorities. Therefore, I hope that for once I have the Minister's sympathy for sticking up for elected representatives.

I am implacably imposed to direct instructions from the Secretary of State to the chief officer of police which in any way bypass the police authority. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I beg to move that the House be resumed. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.31 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Hepatitis C

7.31 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what new help they are considering for people with haemophilia who were infected with hepatitis C by contaminated National Health Service blood products and for the dependants of those who have since died.

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this debate—I speak as president of the Haemophilia Society—is to focus parliamentary and public attention on the now burning sense of injustice felt by a small and stricken community.

Ninety-five per cent of people with haemophilia treated before 1985—some 4,800 people—were infected with hepatitis C—HCV—by unclean NHS blood products. One in four of them was also infected with HIV. Over 800 have now died of AIDS-related illnesses from HIV infection and 212 have died from liver disease linked to HCV.

Yet, already twice stricken, the haemophilia community has now been dealt a cruel further blow. They are told by the Department of Health that blood products on which many rely crucially for their survival came from plasma donated by people who have since died of vCJD.

That briefly is the factual basis of what doctors of the highest distinction—including my noble friend Lord Winston, who is vice president of the Haemophilia Society—have described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service.

Its magnitude explains why the Haemophilia Society has felt moved to protest today about the absence from this debate of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath as the departmental Minister appointed to speak in this House for the Department of Health. That my noble friend Lord Filkin is on duty this evening is most welcome to me personally. But I would be remiss not to emphasise how dismayed the haemophilia community are, not least those who are now terminally ill—and the dependants of those who have died—that this is the third debate on the disaster in your Lordships' House when its only health Minister has not been present to participate. They are dismayed too about the blatant discrimination they continue to suffer and the delays, week after week after week, in answering parliamentary questions about the hardship it imposes.

HIV-infected people rightly won financial recompense from the Macfarlane Trust set up by the then government in 1987 as an,

    "official acceptance of moral responsibility".

Fifteen years on those infected with HCV at the same time—and by the same route—still await parity of treatment. There is exactly the same moral responsibility for loss and hardship in both cases.

Like HIV infection, HCV can involve heavy financial loss. A survey conducted by the Haemophilia Society, published today, spells out in graphic terms the severity of that loss and the urgency of the need for a positive ministerial response to the practical measures the society proposes on behalf of the 11,000 haemophilia patient community and their families.

Nearly half of those infected with HCV have had to give up work or cut their working week on health grounds; 40 per cent are unable to obtain life insurance; 14 per cent find it impossible to secure mortgages; and 73 per cent can show that their families, as well as they themselves, are adversely

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affected financially, practically and emotionally by the grossly stigmatising effects of the infection. The survey's findings make ludicrous the argument that there is no stigma in having HCV.

Nor is it tenable for the Department of Health to go on arguing that financial recompense is only ever paid when negligence can be proved. As Karin Pappenheim has pointed out for the Haemophilia Society, if that argument had held in 1987 there would have been no financial recompense for HIV infection; nor, going further back, would the vaccine damage payments scheme ever have been enacted.

Equally flawed was the department's response to the Haemophilia Society's call for a public inquiry into the infection en masse of the haemophilia community. Its response was to say that there had already been an inquiry. But it was an in-house inquiry by the department itself—held in secret—which responsible journalists describe as,

    "a whitewash perpetrated behind closed doors".

The "inquiry" reported in 1998, again peddling the fallacy that HCV, unlike HIV, does not involve social stigma, and simplifying the last government's reasons for compensating only HIV infection to the point of crude inaccuracy.

The truth about the in-house inquiry is now exposed in a letter on the disaster sent to me by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. A health Minister at the time when many of the infections occurred, the noble Lord discloses that moneys allocated—and announced to Parliament—for making NHS blood products safer by ceasing to import blood from high-risk donors abroad were not used for their agreed purpose. Self-sufficiency was not achieved as planned but this was not reported to Parliament, although failure to achieve it meant continued reliance on less safe imports. One is entitled to ask how many people with haemophilia could have been saved from life-threatening viral infection had the policy announced in Parliament been duly implemented.

In a letter sent to me on 12th November last, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, admitted that failure to inform Parliament of this important change of policy in regard to self-sufficiency was never considered by his department's in-house inquiry. Surely that admission alone justifies the call for an independent further inquiry. In the same letter the Minister stated:

    "The department's officials are looking into points raised by Lord Owen, and I will write to you again when examination of all the relevant documents has been completed".

Four months on, I am still awaiting his further letter.

All of this deepens the disquiet felt by the haemophilia community about the grossly unjust treatment of those infected with HCV, as does the Government's reaction to Mr Justice Burton's landmark High Court ruling against the National Blood Authority last March. His core finding in awarding significant compensation was that suppliers of blood to NHS patients have a legal duty to supply clean blood. Yet 4,800 haemophilia patients were contaminated by unclean blood and, while the judgment applies directly only to offences after the

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Consumer Protection Act came into effect in March 1988, its unmistakable logic is that it is right in principle to compensate NHS patients infected by unclean blood.

For that logic not to be applied now to people with haemophilia infected by unclean NHS blood is wrong in principle, cruelly discriminatory and morally perverse. The issue is ultimately one of moral right; and in none of the parliamentary campaigns in which I have been involved in 38 years in Parliament—even thalidomide and those for statutory recognition of dyslexia and autism—have I felt so strongly that campaigning ought not to have been necessary.

Nor should it be necessary any longer to campaign for people with the same disability to have the safest available medical treatment whether they live in Scotland and Wales or in England. As of now, postcode, not clinical need, determines whether haemophilia patients are prescribed safer, but more expensive recombinant clotting factors.

It is deeply disquieting also that even the current policy of entitling children with haemophilia to the safer treatment is sometimes ignored in parts of England. The Department of Health has told haemophilia patients that any danger of infection from plasma from donors who have since died of variant CJD is "theoretical". To which patients reply that "theoretical" dangers ought more properly be put to the test by those who declare them to be theoretical than by a community already twice stricken by life-threatening blood-borne infections.

They ask now simply, "When will right be done?". Only 43 per cent of patients over 20 are receiving recombinant. Fifty-seven per cent are still forced to use blood products and many have resorted to treatment strikes.

I return in conclusion to the issue of financial recompense and the logic of Mr Justice Burton's historic ruling. To go on viewing special help for life-threatening infection, post-Burton, from the narrow perspective of medical negligence is contemptuous of the principle he enunciated.

The Chief Medical Officer is now reviewing existing systems for compensating patients harmed by NHS treatment. And, as Professor Ian Kennedy, who chaired the Bristol Heart Inquiry, has stated, redress for haemophilia patients requires a new initiative outside those systems. He writes to the society:

    "It is for this reason that I have urged the Chief Medical Officer's Working Party to contemplate more wide-ranging changes to respond more effectively to those needing financial and other assistance arising from medical mishaps. The community you represent is just such a group".

He goes on to say that the needs of HCV-infected haemophilia patients are,

    "as clear a case of deserving help as any for a compensation scheme based on need, regardless of blame, and funded through general taxation".

Since my last debate, at least two more European countries have set up special schemes for compensating HCV-infected patients. Sweden and

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Spain have now joined those already providing just treatment and the Haemophilia Society, in developing proposals which could be implemented here, has based them on the experience of those who have led the way all across Europe. I hope very much that my noble friend Lord Filkin will agree that Ministers will now meet the society—and soon—to hear its detailed proposals.

That justice delayed is justice denied was never more strongly felt than it is today in the small community for whom I speak this evening. They want this debate to hasten the end of an injustice that leaves so many of them doubly disabled and in double despair. But if their striving for equity has to go on, let no one doubt that go on it must until justice is done.

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