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Disability discrimination legal claim launched by victims of contaminated NHS blood

Hepatitis C sufferers challenge Government payment scheme in the High Court after NHS contaminated blood 'disaster'

Posted on 15 January 2015

Three victims of what has been described as ‘the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service’, one of whom is a constituent of the Prime Minister, have begun a legal case challenging the lawfulness of the payment schemes set up by the government after patients contracted Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) from contaminated blood or blood products provided by the NHS during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The three men, who are taking this case on an anonymous basis, claim the present scheme discriminates against them for having contracted HCV by paying them far less than those victims who contracted HIV.

They contend that paying them far less than victims who carry another equally life-threatening virus is unlawful discrimination.

Despite promises made by David Cameron personally to the HCV victim who is his constituent to sort this matter out, the discrimination has continued for many years due to a failure by the government to uprate HCV payments to the rate paid to HIV victims.

In the 1970s to early 1990s, a number of NHS patients, mostly haemophilia sufferers, were provided with contaminated blood by the NHS and, as a direct result, contracted one or both of the blood-borne viruses, HIV and HCV. More than 4500 patients contracted one or both of these diseases.

Over 2000 are thought to have died as a result of the catastrophe. Lord Robert Winston described it as “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service.”

Successive governments have accepted that the failure by the NHS was sufficiently grave to justify regular payments being made to the victims.

However, patients who carry the HIV virus as a result of this NHS disaster are paid substantially more than victims who carry the equally life threatening HCV virus.

The discrimination not only happens during the life of these victims. A far lower level of payments is also provided to the dependents of those who died as a result of contracting HCV from NHS contaminated blood as compared to the dependents of those who died as a result of contracting HIV.

According to a letter before action sent to the Department of Health on Wednesday 14th January 2015, the inequalities between and within the schemes mean that this is unlawful disability discrimination.

The detailed legal letter explains that as HCV victims are being subjected to less favourable treatment for a reason which relates to their particular disability, the compensation schemes do not comply with the government’s duties under the Equality Act 2010.

The letter asks the Secretary of State to take urgent action to correct the anomalies between the schemes, or further legal proceedings will take place in the High Court through judicial review.

Rosa Curling a lawyer in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day, who is representing the three men, said:

“Both HIV and HCV are life threatening, life-long chronic conditions. These viruses’ both sadly have serious implications for those who carry them and, in a proportion of cases, will lead to the death of the patient.

“We believe it is clearly unlawful that one group of sufferers of a serious virus, contracted through the same NHS disaster, are treated differently on account of their disability.

“One of our client’s has explained this injustice to the Prime Minister, who is his MP, yet nothing has been done by the government to correct this manifest injustice.

“Our clients wish to avoid litigation if this is possible. We want the chance to sit down with Jeremy Hunt, to explain the anomalies in his compensation systems and obtain a commitment from him urgently to put things right.

“The Secretary of State for Health is under a legal duty to remedy this injustice and provide for equality between the HIV and HCV schemes.”

The letter asks for a response from the Secretary of State, within 14 days of the letter before action. Leigh Day have instructed David Lock QC and Alistair Mills of Landmark Chambers to act on behalf of the HCV victims.