The compensation bill for those affected by the NHS tainted blood scandal could hit as much as £10bn, officials say, in a further blow to the UK’s stretched public finances.
Ministers have accepted the “moral case” to compensate the families of the victims of the scandal, in which tens of thousands of people became infected with HIV and hepatitis C through transfusions of contaminated blood.
He the scandal goes back back to the 1970s and 1980s, but ministers are only now coming to terms with the financial impact. Senior government officials have told the Financial Times the compensation plan could cost between £5bn and £10bn.
Given the tightness of public finances, Treasury and Health Department officials have been discussing in recent days how a compensation scheme would be structured.
“We are looking at the options,” said a member of the government. Another said: “People are very concerned about the cost.” The government declined to comment on the size of the compensation bill.
The issue is coming to a head following the publication of a new report into the scandal last month by Sir Brian Langstaff, a former judge, who said the action was “necessary to alleviate the immediate suffering” of those affected.
He scored on his second interim report on the subject that many were on “borrowed time” after suffering what he said was “the worst treatment disaster in NHS history”.
He said a scheme should be put in place this year to compensate the “infected” and “affected”; this last group includes spouses, parents of infected children up to 18 years of age, siblings who lived with an infected person, caregivers and dependents of the deceased. A final report on the scandal will be published in the fall.
The potential level of compensation has caused concern in Whitehall. Although the costs would not directly affect the government’s fiscal rules, they would add to the pressures public services already face.
Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin told lawmakers last month that the government would move “at pace” to “deliver a resolution” but warned that Langstaff’s recommendations needed “careful consideration” and would have “implications financial”.
He questioned Langstaff’s suggestion that the compensation scheme should be run by an independent body, possibly chaired by a High Court judge.
Quin said such a structure would be a “new departure” from previous schemes, adding that the government would “have no continuing role beyond providing taxpayer funds as required by the body.”
The government said: “The infected blood scandal should never have happened. Sir Brian Langstaff’s interim report will help the UK government and devolved administrations meet our shared goal of being able to respond quickly when the final inquiry report is published in the autumn.”
The investigation into the scandal was announced by former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017; So far, infected people and bereaved couples have each received an interim payment of £100,000, leading to payments of around £400 million.
About 1,350 people are believed to have contracted HIV, of whom about 1,000 had died in 2019, according to the research. Another 26,800 had contracted hepatitis C, of whom some 1,820 had died of causes related to the infection.
Langstaff described how victims campaigned for decades to have their voices heard, saying compensation should also reflect “wrongdoing by the authority, whose response served to aggravate people’s suffering.”