Call to increase winter payments for those affected
The UK Government is being urged to agree to increase winter fuel payments for people infected by NHS blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
Health Secretary Shona Robison has written to UK Public Health Minister Jane Ellison asking for agreement to increase the payments as an interim measure while the existing UK-wide financial support schemes are reviewed.
People across the UK who were infected with Hepatitis C in the 1970s and 1980s currently receive winter fuel payments from the Caxton Foundation charity. These range from around £300 to £500 per year depending on the funding available to the Foundation each year.
A recent increase in registrants has meant more pressure on the Caxton budget. As a UK-wide charity, any plan to increase the payments would have to be agreed by all four UK ministers.
The scale of the increase would be subject to the agreement of all four minsters. The Scottish Government proposes that the payments be increased to around £1,000 this winter.
In 2008 the Scottish Government announced a statutory Scottish public inquiry into the issue of infected blood – the only one carried out in the UK. The inquiry was chaired by Lord Penrose and published its final report earlier this year. Following its publication, the Scottish Government announced a review of the financial support available in Scotland.
A Financial Review Group, including patient group representatives, is expected to deliver its recommendations to ministers around the end of November.
Ms Robison said: "In Scotland we remain fully committed to improving the financial support on offer to people affected by this hugely distressing chapter in the history of our health service. We are working on creating that long-term solution, but in the meantime we want to see interim arrangements put in place while those UK-wide support schemes are reviewed.
"During our discussions with patient groups they have raised the issue of interim payments, and noted that winter can be a time of particular hardship for those infected and their families – particularly those on lower incomes.
"I believe that increasing the winter fuel payments made through the Caxton Foundation would be a simple and effective way to give some extra help. By at least doubling these payments this winter, we can give people some vital additional support as they wait for the improved financial schemes to come into effect."
Dan Farthing Sykes, CEO, Haemophilia Scotland, said:
"There are people all over Scotland living in intense financial hardship as a direct result of being infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through the contaminated blood disaster. Some are struggling to pay for the fundamentals of life such as keeping a roof over their head, food on their table, or their lights on. The Scottish Government has brought forward a practical suggestion to put money in the pockets of those who desperately need it."
Following the publication of the Penrose Inquiry's final report this year, the Prime Minister announced £25 million of transitional funding while financial support schemes were reviewed. A decision on how this will be spent has now been delayed until 2016/17. The Scottish Government will match those transitional payments proportionately in Scotland. As payments to people in Scotland have to be made through the UK-wide schemes, they cannot be made until a decision on the £25 million is taken.
The Macfarlane Trust and Eileen Trust provide similar payments to those affected by HIV. These are managed and funded solely by the UK Government. The Scottish Government would also like to see comparable interim measures taken with these schemes.