Suffolk victims of blood scandal says it’s time for action
An Ipswich father-of-three who was infected with two deadly diseases amid a health scandal which claimed thousands of lives has called on the Government to deliver its election promise of financial compensation.
Alan Burgess, 57, was one of thousands of haemophiliacs – many now dead – who were co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C after being treated with contaminated blood between the 70s and 90s.
In what has been described as one of the NHS’s worst scandals, blood products made from high-risk donors, such as drug addicts, prisoners, and prostitutes, were given to patients around the world.
Many infected have suffered years of ill-health, premature deaths, social stigma and family breakdowns.
But while other countries such as Ireland offered significant sums to victims, the UK is yet to make a satisfactory settlement.
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Earlier this year, Mr Burgess, who spent years campaigning for justice, was hopeful for such a settlement after David Cameron announced he would treat it as a matter of urgency.
The Prime Minister also promised £25million to “ease transition” to a reformed support system.
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In July, however, it was announced no decisions on spending would be taken until the autumn spending review, on November 25, but now it is believed to be “very unlikely” an announcement will come before Christmas – and possibly even a year after the PM’s initial pledge.
Today, the Department of Health made assurances that reforming the payment “remains a priority” and it will finalise proposals following a public consultation to be announced after the spending review.
Not convinced, Mr Burgess repeated his calls for the prime minister to deliver his promise.
“We’ve heard nothing but empty promises for years – now it’s time for action,” he said.
Mr Burgess was infected with HIV during treatment for internal bleeding in 1982, though it was not until three years later he learned of his condition.
By the late 80s his health was rapidly deteriorating, he could no longer work and was told he would be dead within months. In 1991 he learned he had also contracted hepatitis C. Faced with this, Mr Burgess’s mental health worsened, culminating in a breakdown and separation from his family.
Although he has reconciled and come to terms with his illness, he says he has started to lose faith in any resolution ever materialising.
“The Tories had promised so much but they have let us down and now we are worse off than ever,” he said.
Although there has been no indication of what the next financial announcement will be, campaigners are growing concerned it will fall short of their hopes, having seen similar schemes taking shape in Scotland.
Draft proposals for the Scottish Government indicate an increase in annual payments for those in certain categories. However, others, such as stage one hepatitis sufferers, are apparently discounted, along with some dependents.
Although the Scottish Government stressed these are only draft recommendations, campaigners in England say they fear the final proposals will also ignore key groups.
“It’s been mired by subterfuge and mystery,” Mr Burgess added.
Also affected by the scandal is Steve Sillett, of St Paul’s Close, Brockdish, on the Suffolk and Norfolk border, who was infected with the hepatitis C virus.
As part of a series looking at how those victims continue to be failed many years on, we told how the 57-year-old, infected when receiving treatment for haemophilia, had contracted liver cancer and been given just a few months to live.
Fortunately a donor was found for the lorry driver and a successful transplant earlier this year meant he was clear not only of the cancer, but the haemophilia too.
However, he and his wife Di were recently rocked by the news that a blood clot in the main artery of his new liver has been discovered, meaning he has to go through the ordeal once again.
The Department of Health has twice refused our Freedom of Information request to release copies of correspondence between the Prime Minister, MPs and staff on the issue.
Its response to our appeal of the first refusal said: “If Ministers and officials worked under the assumption that all their communications was accessible under FoI then it is likely to have a profound, chilling effect upon frank and open communication between Ministers and civil servants as well as on the full and accurate recording of that communication.”
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The blood contamination scandal is a tragedy that has drawn on for far too long. Despite promises from this Government that new financial support is on the way, there is little sign this will happen soon.
Meanwhile, thousands who have lost their health as a result of killer viruses continue to live in poverty. The failure runs deep.
We welcome the Government’s pledge to make £25million available to victims. Today we call on PM David Cameron to speed up the release of these funds.
Campaigners are hopeful of reaching a negotiated settlement with the Government that will fairly meet the needs of all affected by this tragedy. This needs to happen with urgency.
Those still alive are faced with a daily struggle to make ends meet. The Government has to put this right.