Sunak on 'wrong side of history' as MPs vote on infected blood payments

PM suffers first Commons defeat after Tory rebels back move to speed up compensation for victims

Demostrators outside the infected blood inquiry, London 26 July 2023
More than 3,000 people have died so far after receiving tainted blood
(Image credit: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak "should be ashamed" at having to be forced "to do the right thing" for victims of the infected blood scandal, campaigners said today after his government suffered a Commons defeat over compensation.

Up to 30,000 people, including thousands suffering from blood-clotting disorder haemophilia, were infected with HIV and hepatitis C in the 1970s and 1980s after receiving contaminated blood transfusions through the NHS. More than 3,000 people have died as a result, according to The Haemophilia Society, and the death toll continues to rise.

Ministers have accepted the "moral case" for compensating families and victims, said the Financial Times (FT), but are "concerned about the cost". To date, around 4,000 survivors and bereaved partners have each received an interim payment of £100,000 – about £400 million overall – but senior government officials told the paper that the total could reach between £5 billion and £10 billion. 

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The government wanted to wait for the infected blood inquiry launched in 2019 to conclude before setting up a full scheme. But calls for immediate action intensified after the publication of the final report was pushed back from last month to March 2024.

With victims dying at an estimated rate of one every four days, campaigners warn that "the speed compensation is administered is key", the BBC reported.

In "an effort to keep restless Tory MPs on side", said The Telegraph, ministers pledged a "last-minute change" to put in place the "legal groundwork" to establish a body to deliver payouts to victims. But 20 Tory rebels yesterday voted for a Labour amendment to set up a new compensation body within three months. 

The loss, by four votes, was the government's first defeat in the Commons on a whipped vote since the general election in 2019.

The Haemophilia Society chair Clive Smith called the vote "a victory for parliamentary democracy". Sunak "should be ashamed" to be "on the wrong side of history" on the issue, Smith told BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme, adding that "it shouldn't have needed to come to this".

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