By Philip Howard

A LEADING campaigner in the fight to help people given infected NHS blood has raised concerns about the slow rate of progress in providing financial assistance.

The Scottish Government has announced that hundreds of people given infected blood have now received extra financial support.

A new scheme for infected blood support, which includes new annual payments for widows and widowers whose husband or wife died as a result of their Hepatitis C or HIV infection, is also expected to start in April.

But Bill Wright, chairman of Haemophilia Scotland, has cast doubt in the NHS’s ability to have the scheme up and running by then.

He said: “We’re not confident the Government is going to make that deadline, because what’s involved here is the establishment of a completely new administration in Scotland under (NHS) National Services Scotland, which is a nationwide health board.

“We met NHSNSS just before Christmas and were pretty shocked at how little understanding they had at a fairly senior level of this issue.

“In particular, cases they were not even aware of the financial review that took place last year, so to go from a standing start to establishing an administration where there is implementing by the end of March we think is a pretty tall order.”

He said urgent work is required to help widows and widowers whose husband or wife died of indirect complications of Hepatitis C such as cerebral brain haemorrhage.

“We are very anxious to meet ministers to see an acceleration in this process, because since the Government announced the extra money back in March we have had the occasional meeting with ministers – I think the last time we met was at the end of the summer.

“But the signs we have had back while playing email tennis since then is that they are not really willing to discuss what are called ‘stage one widows’ at this stage.”

A total of 11 people infected with both HIV and Hepatitis C via contaminated blood have been paid a £50,000 lump sum, while 330 have been given one-off top-up payments of £30,000.

Annual payments to a further 138 people have risen to either £27,000 or £37,000, depending on the stage of their illness.

About 3,000 Scots are thought to have contracted either Hepatitis C or HIV, or both, through NHS blood products between the 1970s and the early 90s in a UK-wide contaminated blood scandal linked to US donations, where donors were paid.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said the blood scandal was a “tragedy”.

She said: “When I heard from people affected that they were struggling to make ends meet, to pay their bills, that they couldn’t keep their house warm, I knew we had to do something.”

She said the payments were set up via a financial review group that included people infected and is aimed at ensuring those who are most ill receive the most help.

She added: “The Government has worked hard to deliver increased payments for those infected in Scotland through the existing UK schemes this year, despite delays in getting the new arrangements agreed with the UK Government and the existing schemes.

“The changes needed were finally processed by the Department of Health and the schemes and I am pleased to hear hundreds of people have now received those higher payments. We know this money can be a lifeline to families across Scotland.

“I am also pleased the new Scottish payment system is on course to be delivered next spring. The needs of patients and their families will be very much at its heart.”