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NHS infected blood campaign hails 'watershed moment'

Additional £20m to be distributed to victims over the next three years.

By STV News

Published 18 Mar 2016.

A new financial package for Scottish people affected by infected NHS blood has been described by campaigners as a "watershed moment".

The Scottish Government announced an additional £20m of funding over the next three years as it accepted the recommendations of the independent financial review into the issue.

In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of people in Scotland were given contaminated blood by the NHS. Some were infected with HIV or hepatitis C and many have since died.

The Penrose Inquiry was set up to examine how this happened and what lessons can be learned to prevent it from happening again.

Its findings were branded a "whitewash", however, as its only recommendation was that people in Scotland should be tested for hepatitis C if they received transfusions before 1991.

A financial group, which has patient and family representatives, was set up by health secretary Shona Robison following the publication of the inquiry last year.

On Friday, the Scottish Government confirmed a new funding scheme will be established for people who became infected with HIV and hepatitis C after treatment in Scotland, and their dependants.

Current support packages for those affected by infected blood are delivered through UK-wide schemes.

Annual payments for people with HIV and advanced hepatitis C will be increased from £15,000 a year to £27,000 a year, to reflect average earnings, while those with both conditions will have their payments hiked from £30,000 to £37,000.

When a recipient dies, their spouse or civil partner will continue to receive 75% of their annual payment.

Those infected with chronic hepatitis C will receive a £50,000 lump sum payment, previously £20,000.

In addition, a new support and assistance grants scheme worth £1m a year will be established to administer and provide more flexible grants to cover additional needs.

Bill Wright, chairman of Haemophilia Scotland, said: “This announcement is a watershed moment for everyone involved in this long-running campaign."

He particularly welcomed the ongoing support for those who are most unwell to ensure they are not living in poverty as a result of their infections.

Mr Wright said the support for widows and widowers helped to acknowledge they "suffered losses in their own right" and they should have a secure future.

He added: "No scheme can truly make up for the loss of life, and health, caused by this disaster.

"The Cabinet secretary has acknowledged that there is more to be done once these schemes move to Scotland. However, today, we have made historic progress."

Ms Robison said: "Infected blood is one of the most terrible chapters in the history of our NHS.

"Those affected have suffered dreadful impacts on their health, life expectancy and quality of life, including financial losses.

"It is quite right that they and their families are given adequate support to help them cope with consequences for which they are entirely blameless.

"We acknowledge that many people affected by this issue believe the financial support packages on offer do not reflect the impact of these infections, not just for them but also their families."

Scottish representatives are liaising with the UK Department of Health and existing UK-wide support scheme to provide a "smooth transition", Ms Robison added.

Patrick McGuire, partner with Thompsons Solicitors and the lawyer representing the majority of victims, said it was "an extremely important day".

"There are still issues to be resolved surrounding the different categories of victims and that full compensation for those affected has yet to be delivered but we will continue to work with the Scottish Government on this," he said.