‘UK Government must stop dragging its heels’ – Robison
Health Secretary Shona Robison today renewed her calls for the UK Government to stop 'dragging its heels' over allowing the Scottish Government to give new financial support for those affected by infected NHS blood in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has pledged that those who have been infected with HIV and hepatitis C from infected blood in Scotland will be entitled to extra financial support. Ministers have also announced that a new Scottish scheme for payouts will be established in 2017, including for the first time, annual payments for widows and widowers.
While work on the new scheme continues, Scottish Ministers have repeatedly called on the UK Government to progress changes to allow them to use existing UK Support schemes, the Skipton Fund and MFET, to pay out the increased lump sums and annual payments without delay.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said:
"The Scottish Government is working hard to deliver increased payments for those infected in Scotland through the existing UK schemes this year – but we are dependent on the UK Government to allow this to happen.
"Despite repeated calls to take the steps to allow us to process payments with immediate effect in Scotland, Whitehall has still not approved changes to the relevant Agreements.
"We're ready to go with a new Scottish payment system next year, but we could start sooner with payments in Scotland if the UK Government would only accede to our request for use of their existing schemes.
"I wrote again to the Department of Health in June to ask that they progress this work more quickly. We are now about to go into August and we still haven't been given a green light to proceed.
"The UK Government must stop dragging its heels. They have the opportunity to get this moving and send a clear signal to those who have been affected, many of whom are desperate to receive the money they are entitled to, and these delays are totally unacceptable.
"I can assure everyone concerned that we are progressing this as fast as we possibly can in Scotland and will continue to make the case to the UK Government to take the swift action needed."
Dan Farthing-Sykes, Chief Executive Officer, Haemophilia Scotland said:
"Every day I talk to families across Scotland who are in desperate need of the new payments. Some are only just keeping their head above water.
"The stress and anxiety caused by these delays is putting additional strain on families who may be in the final months before a bereavement.
"It is extremely frustrating to know that the money has been assigned by the Scottish Government for months but can't be paid to those who need it because of this bureaucratic wrangling.
"This Department of Health stalling must stop and this urgently needed money must be paid immediately."
Earlier this week, Ms Robison met with representatives of those affected by infected blood in Scotland.
She has also just written to the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee to update them on latest developments. The full text is below.
Letter to Committee:
I am writing in response to your letter of 15 July on financial support arrangements for those affected by infected NHS blood.
As you know, in accepting the Scottish Financial Review Group's key financial recommendations, we have planned a substantial package of improved financial support arrangements for those affected by HIV and Hepatitis C via infected NHS blood and blood products in Scotland. This represents a significantly increased offer compared to the existing commitments, and contain a more generous package of support than that offered by the UK Government for those infected in England.
While we establish a new Scottish scheme, we have been attempting to persuade the UK Government's Department of Health to allow us to begin the payment of the increased lump sums and annual payments via the existing UK support schemes, the Skipton Fund and MFET, in 2016. This would be a transitionary arrangement to allow us to provide some payments to recipients more quickly while the new Scottish scheme is established.
However, such payments under the existing arrangements require a number of amendments to the agreements in place between the schemes and the UK Government. Unfortunately the UK Government has not yet taken the steps we have requested to allow the increased payments to be made. The UK Government appears to be dragging its heels, but we continue to make clear to the Department of Health that we find the delays unacceptable and request that they move quickly to make the necessary amendments.
As the UK Government has now announced their own proposals I would hope that they will now implement the requested amendments without further delay. Given that the existing support is delivered by independent organisations, we also require their consent to implement the increased payments in the interim. I am pleased to report that they have indicated that they are content in principle to do this.
Progress has been made though on establishing a new Scottish scheme. We have carefully considered a number of options for bodies to administer the new Scottish scheme. As a result of this process, we have decided that NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) is the best organisation to run the scheme as it already has staff in place with the right experience, which brings added resilience and flexibility to the delivery function. NSS already provides a payment service and has the in-house expertise, facilities and technology to establish a new scheme quickly. Given that NSS are well placed to undertake the new function, we are confident that the new Scottish scheme can be up and running by April 2017.
The existing UK schemes hold databases of sensitive personal data which will have to be transferred securely to the new Scottish scheme - in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 this will require beneficiaries to provide consent to their data being passed on to NSS. Unfortunately, this means that NSS could not simply start making the new payments now. There will also have to be a transfer of knowledge and existing protocols from the UK schemes to the new Scottish scheme and new secondary legislation passed by the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs to ensure the payments continue not to be subject to income tax or considered in calculating benefits entitlements. There are complex legislative issues with this that have to be worked through with DWP and HM Revenue and Customs, but I can assure you we are doing all that is within our power to make progress with this.
We would envisage a partnership group of beneficiaries providing advice and feedback to the new scheme, to ensure that it reflects their evolving needs. A future review will also be undertaken on the current eligibility criteria for Hepatitis C payments, based on the latest clinical and scientific evidence from international research, with input from experts on the health impacts of the disease.
I hope this provides you with reassurance that delivering the increased payments remains a priority for us and we are doing all that we can to deliver them as soon as possible.
Shona Robison, Health Secretary