12 April 2016
Nadhim Zahawi calls for fair settlement for victims of the contaminated blood scandal

Nadhim Zahawi calls on the Department for Health to ensure a fair settlement for victims of the contaminated blood scandal.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)

It is a privilege and an honour to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). I commend her for her leadership in bringing Parliament together on this very important subject.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important debate on such a sombre and saddening topic. I speak as the representative of a number of individuals in my constituency whose lives and the lives of those they love have been grievously, unfairly and irreversibly affected by the terrible injustice we address this afternoon.

The Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, has apologised for the infection of individuals with contaminated blood—an apology that is now more than a year old, for a scandal that is more than 20 years old. When he rightly addressed the matter last year, my right hon. Friend said that it was

“difficult to imagine the feelings of unfairness”—[Official Report, 25 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 1423.]

that those who have been affected must feel. My constituents and others around the country were let down, when they or their family members were at their most vulnerable, by the health service that was supposed to keep them safe. It truly is difficult to imagine.

I am sorry to say that the feelings of unfairness have not been lessened by the proposals in this consultation; if anything, they have been made worse. Lives have been changed and lives have been taken. So much has been lost, but the Government must now focus on lessening and mitigating this loss as much as can ever be possible.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)

On mitigating the loss, I am here to represent several constituents, but one in particular—Andy Gunn. He is extremely concerned by the Health Secretary’s suggestion that the funding might come from the NHS budget. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that would be highly inappropriate?

Nadhim Zahawi

I have had similar representations from my constituents, and I hope that those on the Treasury Bench take on board the comments of Andy Gunn and of others in my constituency.

The vastness of the loss we are addressing today is such that even the ideal solution cannot do much to address it, but what has been proposed does so much less. The proposals contained in the consultation are far from what the victims of this injustice expected or were led to believe they would receive. I know that many of my colleagues have similar stories to tell. I have had constituents visit my surgeries who have always been so incredibly strong about what has happened to them and hopeful for the potential of a good settlement from the Government, but have now been left in tears. They feel let down and fear that these proposals will make life even harder for them.

Those are people whose lives have turned out to be radically different from what they had planned, through absolutely no fault of their own. They struggle to get insurance or pensions—things we take for granted in this place—and have had their careers curtailed. Even worse, they have been unable to have children, or have seen loved ones die tragically soon. These people should be helped and need to be provided with a full and final settlement that allows them to move on, without being worse off.

There remains much misunderstanding about the medical conditions of the victims and the treatments available. The improvements in care for those with HIV/AIDS have been a blessing for many. However, the disease remains incurable, and haemophiliacs and those with other conditions such as hepatitis C cannot take the medication that could help them. We must also properly consider those infected by more than one disease. Those with both HIV and HCV have a threefold greater risk of progression to cirrhosis or decompensated liver disease than those infected only with HCV. We should not misunderstand, underestimate or underplay the dangers of these diseases.

My constituents, and the constituents of so many of us here today, have suffered a grave injustice. It is an injustice that they never expected to suffer, would never have been able to prepare for, and for which the blame rests entirely elsewhere. They or their loved ones have experienced terrible illness and their lives have been changed or ended. “Unfairness” does not seem strong enough to describe it, but that word is the best we can do.

The Prime Minister was right to apologise, but this consultation does not go far enough. When my constituents only have to look north of the border to see a better deal on the table, with talk about public monuments to those sadly lost, and are then faced with an option here that could leave them in an even worse position, anger and resentment are more than understandable.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a danger that the consultation will undo the good of the apology? The impact assessment states that the intention of the policy is to safeguard the interests of those who are chronically infected and receive an annual payment, but that annual payment is no longer index-linked, and people have made their assumptions on that basis. My constituent, Norah Tracey, has had to take early retirement because she has hepatitis C, and she based her projections on those financial assumptions. If it is no longer index linked, we are making a mockery of what the impact assessment says and we are undoing the sincerity of the apology.

Nadhim Zahawi

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have heard similar representations from my constituents. Indeed, the all-party group found that the representations were very similar across the board. I sincerely hope that those on the Government Front Bench are listening to these interventions today.

The Prime Minister said last year:

“As a wealthy and successful country we should be helping these people more. We will help them more”—[Official Report, 11 March 2015; Vol. 594, C. 289.]

I agree with him and support those words entirely. I hope that the Minister and the Department of Health will ensure that the settlement for the victims will meet the intentions of what the Prime Minister said last year.

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