HC Deb 16 October 2001 vol 372 cc1035-6
5. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

If he will make a statement on his plans for a national strategy to combat the hepatitis C virus. [3767]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears)

In March this year, the Government set up a multidisciplinary steering group to assist in the development of a strategic approach to combat hepatitis C. We will be publishing a consultation paper early in the new year.

Dr. Iddon

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer, which is good news. Is she aware that consultants now consider HCV to be as big a threat as HIV? With possibly 500,000 people infected—many without knowing it—does she agree that there is an urgent need to prevent the further spread of the virus by, for example, providing more and better needle exchange schemes and the provision of confidential but accessible screening procedures?

Ms Blears

I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter and of the assiduous way in which he has pursued it. The Government have set up the multidisciplinary group in recognition of the importance of hepatitis C as a public health issue. Members may be aware that drug misuse via injection is the greatest risk factor for hepatitis C. We have issued guidance to those working with drug users, and 93 per cent. of health authorities now have effective needle exchange schemes in place. However, much more work is required to alert people to the possibility of infection with hepatitis C and to make sure that screening, counselling, support, prevention and treatment are at the top of the agenda for the multidisciplinary group.

We have set it a challenging time scale to come up with a report and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will play a key role in forming the recommendations.

Mr. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

Do the Government have any plans to compensate people infected with hepatitis C through NHS treatment in the past?

Ms Blears

The hon. Gentleman may be aware of a judgment earlier this year, when a successful claim was made against the National Blood Authority under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 concerning 111 people infected with hepatitis C by blood transfusions between 1 March 1988 and September 1991. The Government have no further plans to compensate those persons infected by transfusions. The matter has been fully investigated. The NHS normally compensates people where it is in the wrong and where action has been taken for which it would be liable. That is not the position in this case and there are no plans for further compensation.