HC Deb 21 January 1992 vol 202 cc164-5
2. Mr. Strang

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make provisions comparable to those made to haemophiliacs to non-haemophiliacs infected with HIV as a result of national health service blood or tissue transfers.

The Minister for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

We have every sympathy with the plight of those infected with HIV as a result of NHS blood or tissue transfer. However, we have not been persuaded that it would be right to extend the special provision which has been made for the infected haemophiliacs.

Mr. Strang

How can the Minister justify the Government's callous attitude towards those who become HIV positive as a result of national health service treatment? Surely she accepts that the Government were right to provide compensation for haemophiliacs who became infected through contaminated blood factor 8. Surely she must appreciate that there is no logical or moral case for making a distinction between haemophiliacs and non-haemophiliacs in this respect. That is the view of the Haemophilia Society and of the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will the Government think again on this matter?

Mrs. Bottomley

Frankly, I find it extremely difficult to make judgments about any of the 5,451 AIDS sufferers, let alone the 16,828 HIV sufferers. As the hon. Gentleman of all people will know, we must ensure that we have effective, first-rate services for all those suffering from HIV or AIDS. We took the view that the haemophiliacs were a special case: they were doubly disadvantaged because of their hereditary condition and the onset of HIV, which compounded their problems.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

May I press my hon. Friend on this matter? Does she agree that haemophiliacs and others who are given contaminated blood transfusions receive them from the national health service? Does she agree also that we are talking of not one or two people but tens of people? There are more than 1,000 haemophiliacs and nearly 100 others who received contaminated blood transfusions. These major disasters are compounded by the fact that those people believed that the NHS would make them better.

How can my hon. Friend argue that compensation should be given to haemophiliacs because, sadly, they suffered a congenital disease and that a sick person who required a blood transfusion was in a different category? The result is the same—great suffering for the individual and great suffering for his or her family, probably the onset of AIDS and, ultimately, death. In those terms alone, have not the Government and the NHS a moral obligation to do something about the matter?

Mrs. Bottomley

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not believe that it is ever possible to cut a hard-and-fast line. Any case in which a patient suffers a medical accident is a great tragedy. However, the House debated no-fault compensation and, like the royal commission involved, took the view that it could not be justified. We made a difficult decision, and provided a generous settlement for haemophiliacs. Although my hon. Friend makes persuasive and powerful arguments, I cannot accept that they are convincing reasons for moving the line.

Mr. Robin Cook

The Minister will be aware from her files that two of the 62 cases are my constituents. Does she accept that it is impossible to explain to them why patients who are haemophiliacs are eligible for compensation but they are not—even though my constituents have the same condition, life expectancy and financial pressures? It is impossible to do that because there is no logic to that argument. If it is difficult to defend where the line is drawn, it may be that the line is drawn in the wrong place and that it should be drawn instead so that it includes all those who were infected because of NHS treatment—not just some.

Mrs. Bottomley

As the House knows, Labour has no difficulty making pledges that would result in untold expenditure. The hon. Gentleman argues for no-fault compensation. Where it can be established that there has been negligence, of course compensation is payable. It is the job of the national health service to provide health care and treatment and to continue developing that treatment. I cannot convince myself or the House that the hon. Gentleman's argument is right or persuasive. I remind the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that, this year, £200 million will be earmarked especially for those suffering from HIV or AIDS.