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House of Lords

Wednesday, 26th February 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Personal Statement

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall make a brief personal statement. Yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, asked me a question about U2 flights over Iraq. I was given wrong information and answered that there had been none; in fact there had been two. It is regrettable that that occurred, but perhaps understandable because of the flurry of questions yesterday. As soon as I discovered the error yesterday, I wrote at once to the noble Baroness, to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde and to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, to explain and apologise. I repeat that explanation and apology to your Lordships today, and I hope your Lordships will accept it.

Hepatitis C

2.36 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester : My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest—not a financial one—as president of the Haemophilia Society.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what new help is under consideration for people with haemophilia who were infected with hepatitis C by contaminated National Health Service blood products and the dependants of those who have since died of their infection.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we recently announced an extra £88 million over the next three years to provide synthetic clotting factors for haemophilia patients. Our aim is that by March 2006 the vast majority of haemophilia patients should be receiving those products.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend both for that reply and for the change of policy announced in his written reply to me on 12th February about making the safer recombinant treatment available to haemophilia patients nationwide. When will the promised further meeting take place with the Haemophilia Society to discuss its compensation proposals for people infected with hepatitis C by contaminated NHS blood products?

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Again, is my noble friend aware of the Scottish Executive's proposals for financial recompense and can we be absolutely assured that infected patients will not be treated differently according to where they live in the United Kingdom?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remarks and pay tribute to him and to the Haemophilia Society for their efforts in this direction. The Government are still considering the details of the report submitted by the Haemophilia Society. We will respond to the society and my noble friend as soon as our consideration of the report is complete.

A report from a Scottish expert group is being considered by the Scottish Executive. I understand that no decisions have been made. Of course, that does not affect the position in England; it is solely a matter for the Scottish Executive.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, although the infection was accidental and arose from treatment intended to be beneficial, do the Government accept that they have a duty to assist all those who have been infected in coping with the consequences?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree that the National Health Service should do everything it can to ensure that the services it provides are as effective as possible. If the noble Lord was raising the question of compensation—I think he may have been—he will know that as soon as the technology to make blood products free from hepatitis C was available, it was introduced by the National Health Service. The Government have given the matter long and hard consideration. We reached the same decision as did the previous government—that there was and is no legal liability on which we could justify paying compensation.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, although the Minister is absolutely right to say that there is no legal liability to compensate those infected by the agent through no fault of their own, and although it is true that the whole spirit of no-fault compensation has been anathema to successive governments, is there not a strong moral obligation on the Government to compensate those individuals infected with hepatitis C through receiving that treatment?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot pretend that it was an easy decision for the Government to make. We gave the matter careful consideration and, in the end, felt that the decision taken by the previous Conservative government was right.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the NHS has made the far-sighted decision to fund synthetic blood treatment for haemophiliacs—we all welcome that. Why cannot the Government, for less money than is being made available for synthetic products for those who

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could prospectively be infected by hepatitis C, do the same for those who have been infected by blood products in the past?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot add anything to my previous answers. We have given the matter careful consideration. The fact is that, as soon as the technology became available to make blood products free from hepatitis C, the NHS introduced it. There is no legal liability to justify compensation for those who were so unfortunately affected in that way.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, does the Minister know how many patients infected with hepatitis C who have inherited bleeding disorders are able to access state-of-the-art treatment with pegalated interferon and ribavirin and with specialised hepatology follow-up?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have referred the matter to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. It is considering pegalated interferon; it expects to issue guidance to the NHS in November 2003.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I declare an interest as the vice-president of the Haemophilia Society. Why are patients in Wales and Scotland receiving recombinant, which is a safer form of blood product, but not patients in England? How long will it take for all English haemophiliacs to receive it?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as I said in my Answer, we expect that the scheme will have been completely introduced by 2006. The position in Scotland and Wales is an issue relevant to the administrations there.

The number of haemophilia patients in the rest of the UK is much smaller than that in England. That is also a factor in determining the timescale for introducing the scheme completely. I can also reassure the noble Baroness that the Government will work with the Haemophilia Society to put in place a strategy to implement the scheme effectively.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in 2001, we spent £206 million in compensating those injured by criminals? That is 341 million euros. The combined amount spent by the whole EU, excluding ourselves, is less than what we paid. They paid out 290 million euros. Does the noble Lord agree that the demands on the generosity of the Government with regard to haemophiliacs should be greater? They were injured by the NHS, as opposed to being victims of criminal behaviour, for which the Government are in no way vicariously responsible. Will the noble Lord explain why there is one law for those injured by others and another for those injured by the NHS?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the cases are different. The criminal injuries compensation scheme makes payments to victims of violent crime. That is a

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different set of circumstances from the one we are discussing. I have already explained why the Government made the decision that we did.

I do not pretend that the question is an easy one. To noble Lords opposite, I say that their government also had to make a difficult decision, and I believe that they made the right one. It is not easy. We all recognise the problems of those affected, but I do not think that it is justifiable to move from the principle that I enunciated.

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