Blood scandal victim says government is 'waiting for people to die' to avoid paying £100k compensation to those infected by contaminated transfusions

People infected with HIV and hepatitis C after receiving contaminated blood transfusions at NHS hospitals in the 1970s and 80s should be paid £100,000 each in compensation – before it is too late, a top judge has said.

By Wes Holmes
Monday, 1st August 2022, 3:45 pm

Sir Brian Langstaff, chairman of the inquiry into the infected blood scandal, which is believed to have affected as many as 30,000 people, recommended that the government make the large payment to some of the victims ‘without delay’ during a court hearing last week.

The payment would be made to ‘all those infected and all bereaved partners currently registered on UK infected blood support schemes’ – which includes 62-year-old Dawn Zerbinati, of Ribchester Avenue, Blackpool.

The grandma-of-three was among those infected with hepatitis C after receiving a contaminated blood transfusion at Blackpool Victoria Hospital following the birth of her daughter in 1984.

NHS Blood and Transplant/PA Wire

She said she believed it could take years for compensation to come through – and that the government seemed to be deliberately delaying the process as infected people die.

"We're all very sceptical, especially the ones who have been fighting for many years,” she said. “We have heard it so many times before. It’s almost like being told to wait and see.

"I think it will be a couple of years before anything is sorted out after the hearing is finished – which, at best, will be next year.

"It seems the idea is to wait until a lot of us are dead, and then the government won’t have to pay as much.”

Dawn Zerbinati

Dawn, who was one of 300 survivors to give evidence at the inquiry, had no idea she had been infected with hep C until a routine well-woman appointment in August 2017, when doctors found scarring on her liver similar to that of ‘a life-long cocaine addict’.

It was the result of contaminated blood transfusion, which used blood imported from prisoners in America to keep up with the UK’s high demand in the 1970s and 80s.

Around 5,000 people are believed to have been infected with HIV and hepatitis C due to the contaminated transfusions, but some estimates put the number at up to 30,000. In total, nearly 3,000 people have died.

An inquiry into the alleged cover-up started in 2019 following years of tireless campaigns from victims and their families. Government officials finally accepted responsibility for the scandal in March last year, and announced a compensation framework review for living victims and the spouses of those who died.

However, many bereaved people who lost family members to HIV during the earliest years of the scandal will not be eligible for the £100k payout.

Jason Evans, founder of Factor 8, a charity supporitng blood scandal victims, said the compensation annoucement was ‘a step in the right direction’, but added: “It's disappointing that hundreds of bereaved families will have to wait. We had hoped for a recommendation that the whole community could get behind and campaign for. However, it must be stressed that the arbitrary exclusion of many bereaved families is a creation of the government, not of the infected blood inquiry.

“Many parents whose children died after being infected are now elderly; I expect there will be more deaths without any recognition in this group as the Inquiry continues. Hopefully, the government will take this on board and act now to remove the hierarchy of bereaved families.

“In the meantime, we urge the government to take swift action in making interim compensation payments to all who have been so badly impacted by the devastating effects of hepatitis C and HIV."

Dawn said: "Sir Robert Francis was appointed by the Government to undertake a study of the compensation framework last year. He gave that report recommending the £100k compensation in March this year, and the Government said they would respond, but nothing came about. I remember quite a few people asking in the House of Commons about it, and the answer they came back with was that they wanted to wait for the outcome of the inquiry.

"Now the chairman of the inquiry has stepped in and recommended at least £100k to infected and bereaved victims, but it’s going to be really complicated, and I don’t think anyone will see any compensation for at least a couple of years.

“I would be fortunate enough to see the payout, but such a lot of people have already lost their children, their partners, their parents. They won’t be included, and won’t get the payment.

“Some people are worried about what will happen when they die, whether it can be inherited tax-free, because they’re sure they won’t live to see it. These are the things we’re talking about. You want to put your house in order before you die.

"Something that is personally important to me is that the money needs to come from the treasury, and not the NHS. There have been accusations that if we get compensation, we’d be taking money from the NHS, from people who need it most – and that only makes you feel worse.”

She added: “This has been going on a long, long time. We’re at the very end of it. We’re the last survivors. The first lot had HIV, they had no chance. I was fortunate enough to receieve newer treatment.

“It’s hard to explain how I feel. You live every day as it comes, and you never know what’s around the corner – none of us do. But it's exhausting, listening and waiting.”