The Society criticises "outrageous" attempt to withhold money from contaminated blood victims

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland is “insulting” those infected as a result of contaminated blood products by withholding money just days after it was promised to victims, says The Haemophilia Society’s CEO Liz Carroll.

Richard Pengelly told members of the health committee NI that his department did not want to "throw money out the door".
Richard Pengelly told members of the health committee NI that his department did not want to “throw money out the door”

In a letter to Health Minister Robin Swann, Ms Carroll said there could be no justification for keeping back £400,000 which was intended to “alleviate the financial hardship” of victims of contaminated blood. She called for an urgent meeting with the minister.

Last week, Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced that £1m would be made available with immediate effect to address the disparity in infected blood support payments between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Three days later, the Department of Health admitted it was holding £400,000 back so Mr Swann could better understand the “specific problems and challenges” of those infected.

Explaining the move to health committee members, Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said the department did not want to “throw money out the door”.

Ms Carroll said: “Withholding such a substantial amount of money only days after it was promised is a shocking development which further insults our community, many of whom struggle to maintain a basic standard of living.

“Over the last three decades those infected by contaminated blood products and their families have spent considerable time and effort telling politicians and civil servants in Northern Ireland about their “problems and challenges”. To hold back money now using a lack of understanding about our community as an excuse is nothing short of outrageous.”

On 27 January 2020 Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced that £1m would be made available with immediate effect to address the disparity in support payments between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK. It was understood that payments would be backdated to April 2019 and calculated using the English support payment model.

Until the extra money was announced, someone in Northern Ireland infected with Stage 1 hepatitis C as a result of contaminated blood or blood products receives £4,096 a year in support payments, compared with someone in England who could receive up to £28,000 a year.

Recipients of the Infected Blood Support Scheme of Northern Ireland this week received letters informing them that they will receive interim payments of between £5,000 – £8,000, depending on their medical condition.

Ms Carroll said the priority must now be to distribute all the money as soon as possible.  The money was allocated from the 2019/20 budget and therefore must be spent by the end of this financial year.

She called for Mr Swann to meet urgently with a representative from The Haemophilia Society as well as our colleagues at Haemophilia NI and Friends and Families of Haemophilia, NI.