UK minister says compensating victims of tainted blood was a mistake – investigation

According to documents released during the investigation, the former UK health secretary said it would be a “serious mistake” to introduce compensation payments to victims of blood poisoning in Scotland.

On Thursday, the tainted blood investigation heard from Malcolm Chisholm, who was Minister of Health in the then Scottish Executive.

He held this position as part of the Labor-Liberal Democrats coalition from 2001 to 2004, when he was appointed Minister for Communities.

He told investigators that he had been involved in discussions with the Scottish Health and Public Health Committee, as well as with colleagues in the UK government, regarding a financial compensation scheme for people who contracted hepatitis C after receiving blood products.


Malcolm Chisholm said he was told the blood poisoning compensation scheme was a “serious mistake” (David Cheskin/PA)

In 2000, Mr. Chisholm said that he did not initially believe that payments should be made to a wider group of people who were “not at fault”.

However, after receiving two petitions from the public on the issue, the Health and Community Care Committee recommended in October 2001 that compensation be paid to those who were infected with the hepatitis C virus while on NHS treatment.

Afterwards, Mr. Chisholm said he “didn’t want to dismiss the findings out of the blue” and set up an “expert group” to study the committee’s findings.

The panel of experts repeated the committee’s findings, which Mr. Chisholm then communicated to his British counterpart, Alan Milburn.

I indicated to him in general terms that I was going to offer some kind of payment to at least some of the affected people.Malcolm Chisholm, former Secretary of Health

“We definitely decided we were going to have some kind of scheme,” Mr. Chisholm told Cathy Scott, Associate Investigative Counsel on Thursday.

“I indicated to him in general terms that I was going to offer some kind of payment, at least to some of the victims.”

Mr. Chisholm was asked if Mr. Milburn had pressured him to reconsider his plans.

He replied, “Well, I mean, he was definitely not happy, and I mentioned that whatever we proposed would have a domino effect on other administrations, so no, obviously he wasn’t particularly happy that we offered.”

Miss Scott asked, “Did he try to change your mind?”

Mr. Chisholm replied: “I wouldn’t say he was too hard, he knew I had a different point of view than him on some issues, so maybe he just thought, here’s another one.

“He really tried to convince me, but he didn’t get irritable.

The investigators then presented Mr. Chisholm with an email from Mr. Milburn’s private secretary, which was a transcript of a telephone conversation between two ministers.

It emerged that Mr Milburn had told Mr Chisholm that paying £10,000 in compassionate payments initially when people contracted the virus and another £40,000 when the virus became chronic would be a “serious mistake”.

The email goes on to say: “Once the principle we set was broken, we went bust and found ourselves on a slippery slope to payouts in the millions across the UK.”

Mr. Milburn, who served as Secretary of State from 1999 to 2003, said that Malcolm Chisholm would have to “go through this.”

He instructed civil servants to “find some way to show that the Scots have no delegated authority to go it alone” on the issue.

Mr. Chisholm confirmed that this was an accurate account of the exchange and said there were two other issues complicating matters.

“If this was not a delegated matter, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make any of these payments,” he said.

He also wrote to the Department of Work and Pensions to ensure that the payments would not be returned through benefit payments.

Mr Chisholm added: “Even people who thought ‘why are you even talking to the UK government?’ we have to admit that none of this can be realized unless we solve the issues of delegation of authority and the problem of social security.”

The former health minister was also limited by the department’s budget. The Panel of Experts recommended a cost of around £89m, which Mr Chisholm said “would be very hard to come by”.

The investigation is looking into how thousands of patients in the UK were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

Around 2,400 people died in what has been called the worst medical disaster in NHS history.