The APPG for Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood approached SIBF, Haemophilia Scotland and others, for their contributions towards a common approach and response to Government on the Public Inquiry by MP’s from all parties in the Commons. SIBF Trustees are pleased that the APPG included all our joint responses in their statement. The APPG then formally issued their statement on the Inquiry last month.
We urge all members and other interested parties to read this in its entirety. The points made are supported by the majority of stakeholders and representatives in the UK. It is disappointing to note that this statement thus far is not getting the exposure it deserves in the media. SIBF trustees support this statement in its entirety.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood welcomes the announcement of an inquiry into the scandal.
For this inquiry to truly give those affected the truth and justice they deserve, a number of pressing issues need to be addressed urgently. This statement reflects the APPG’s agreed view on the nature, conduct and remit of the inquiry.
To ensure that those affected can properly engage with the ongoing consultation on an inquiry (closing date: 18th October), we strongly feel that the first two points in this statement need to be addressed straight away, and well ahead of this deadline. If the Government accepted these two points and then proceeded with the consultation on this basis, this would allow for more effective engagement with all those affected.
This issue must be settled before the Government formally appoints a Chair for the inquiry, because the Chair will be appointed by the Minister for the sponsoring Department.
The DH is currently overseeing a consultation on the inquiry, which is due to close on 18th October. Everyone wants the inquiry to be set up as soon as possible. Therefore there is no appetite to extend this consultation further, and there is also overwhelming opposition to DH involvement in this consultation.
As such, an announcement that responsibility for this consultation would be transferred to another Department, and that the consultation responses will be analysed by that Department, is essential. The APPG also expects that the results of this consultation would be published by the new sponsoring Department, or by the Prime Minister’s office.
We consider that the Cabinet Office would be the appropriate Department to receive and analyse responses to the consultation closing on 18th October, to sponsor the inquiry by appointing its Chair and panel and setting its terms of reference, and to fund the inquiry.
A further letter addressing this point should be sent out to people via the ex gratia support schemes in all four countries in the UK. Letters have been sent via the five trusts and, in Scotland, the Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme. This will shortly be changing and management of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish schemes will transfer to the NHS Business Services Authority, the Velindre NHS Trust and the Regional Business Services Organisation, respectively.
The Government and the inquiry must be mindful of this planned transfer, and take steps to ensure that people affected by the scandal do not lose out on vital information during the process of this transfer. We are particularly concerned that people who do not transfer data to these new organisations may not be updated; and that when the five trusts are abolished, vital information which could be used to inform the inquiry could be destroyed.
Both these problems must be addressed, so that nobody is left in the dark and no records from the five trusts are destroyed.
Any notices sent via the support schemes must also be publicised more widely and sent to all Members of Parliament, so that people who are not able to register are still able to receive them.
A contaminated blood inquiry must be able to compel witnesses to provide written evidence and provide oral evidence under oath. As a 2005 Act inquiry is the only means of achieving this, the APPG feels that anything short of this would not be acceptable. We strongly endorse the Rt. Rev. James Jones KBE’s calls for a statutory inquiry, as set out in his letter to the Prime Minister of 13th September 2017.
Many impacted by this tragedy are in desperate need of a proper financial settlement, and they are deeply fearful of the impact that planned cuts to their discretionary support will have on them. The APPG strongly feels that the ex gratia support package in Scotland offers a good basis to provide interim financial support during the course of this inquiry. This should be put in place urgently.
The Government and the devolved administrations must continue to work with beneficiary representatives to fix anomalies in the schemes, provide concrete assurance that nobody will be left any worse off as a result of changes to the schemes; support those overlooked by the current support schemes, and ensure transparency from the scheme administrators.
The DH made an announcement about the English ex gratia support scheme on Thursday 29th September. Whilst the APPG welcomes some of the new commitments in this consultation response, we feel that there are still many issues with the English support scheme that need to be addressed as a matter of priority.
We emphasise that there must be no delay as a result of this inquiry in the provision of proper financial compensation for those affected.
The Government must not appoint a Chair and/or panel for an inquiry unilaterally: those affected must be consulted first. The names of potential Chairs and panel members must be made known to people in the affected community, before they are appointed. In addition, the Government and the inquiry Chair must closely engage with those affected when setting the terms of reference.
This close engagement must continue throughout the process of the inquiry, in the ways set out above. It is vital that we have an inquiry secretariat that works with those affected throughout the investigation. It must act as a public contact point for those who have questions about the inquiry, and receive appropriate resources to carry out this function.
The inquiry must be sensitive to the fact that some people may never have been open about how the scandal has affected them, and would not have disclosed the conditions they have to friends, family or others.
There must be a commitment to hold many more oral hearings than in the Penrose Inquiry in Scotland, and give all those affected the opportunity to provide evidence and express their views. They must be given the opportunity to receive counselling and other forms of support when they provide evidence.
The inquiry must operate with total transparency, ensuring that it conducts itself in public. As with the Hillsborough Independent Panel, a mechanism needs to be put in place to ensure that those affected can be assured that the conclusions of an inquiry report have been arrived at objectively and independently. This means providing those affected with the inquiry report at such a date as to show that its conclusions were not affected by pressure from implicated parties, Government Ministers, officials and others. The Prime Minister’s exchange with the Rt. Rev. James Jones KBE should be published in full.
So far as is consistent with the Inquiries Act 2005 and Inquiry Rules 2006, this commitment to openness must also apply to any warning letters issued under Section 13 (3) of the 2006 Rules to those criticised in the inquiry report. The APPG notes that Sections 14 (3) and 14 (4) of the 2006 Rules also state that obligations of confidence owed about warning letters issued (a) may be waived in writing by the inquiry Chair or recipient when an inquiry report is signed and (b) no longer apply when the inquiry report is published.
The inquiry must ensure that so far as is possible under the law, there is openness about the contents of any warning letters, and their replies.
The contaminated blood scandal is highly complex. It involves the knowledge, expertise and decisions of a wide range of individuals. The APPG feels that instead of having a single individual conducting the inquiry, a broader panel of experts should be appointed. This is possible under the Inquiries Act 2005.
This panel should include, amongst others, individuals with medical experience, legal expertise and an understanding of how to acquire evidence to inform the inquiry. The APPG is not persuaded by the arguments that the Chair of such a panel must necessarily be a current or retired member of the judiciary.
We feel there are considerable merits in having a Chair who is not a judge. Instead, when consulting on the Chair and panel of an inquiry, the Government should leave open the option that someone who is not a judge could Chair the panel.
Whilst the Government must first transfer responsibility for an inquiry from the DH (point 1) and consult those affected on who leads the inquiry (point 3), the APPG feels this can be accomplished within a relatively short timeframe so that the community can be first consulted on the potential Chair for an inquiry, with a Chair subsequently appointed ideally by November 2017. Consultation on the panel and terms of reference can take place after this.
Firstly, previous DH statements have suggested an inquiry may only investigate the events leading up to infection with HIV and Hepatitis C. It is vital that the Government clarifies this urgently, and states that the inquiry would also cover the aftermath – including, but not limited to, any allegations of a cover-up, destroyed and amended documents, the Governmental response to legal challenges on behalf of those affected, the ex gratia support scheme for those affected, and the often decades-long delays people faced in being identified as having been infected.
Secondly, whilst we accept that an inquiry cannot establish criminal or civil liability, the Inquiries Act 2005 also states that “an inquiry panel is not to be inhibited in the discharge of its functions by any likelihood of liability being inferred from facts that it determines or recommendations that it makes.”
Indeed, previous inquiries have been able to run concurrently with separate criminal investigations, and ensure that the relevant bodies are aware of any alleged cases of criminality. In light of the possibility of criminal conduct in this scandal, the Government needs to confirm that a contaminated blood inquiry would be free to operate in the same way.
Thirdly, the APPG acknowledges the different ways in which people have been affected by this scandal. All these individuals deserve an investigation into the distinct routes of infection. The inquiry must include both those infected by factor concentrates, most of whom have bleeding disorders, those infected by wholeblood, the loved ones of those affected, and those infected as a result of contact with their loved ones.
To facilitate this, it must operate from at least five regional hubs: in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, northern England and London. Reasonable travel expenses for attending oral hearings will need to be reimbursed. A panel process allows an inquiry the opportunity to do this, as evidence can be heard by panel members operating across the UK.
In addition, the public hearing should be live streamed online so that those in remote locations or with restricted mobility can follow the inquiry, and are not penalised for being unable to travel. The inquiry must also ensure that nobody should be out of pocket for attending a regional hub or attending oral hearings.
This includes all evidence which has previously been gathered during the 2015 Penrose Inquiry and the 2009 Archer Inquiry; all information used to inform the Department of Health’s 2009 report, “Self-Sufficiency in Blood Products in England and Wales: A Chronology from 1973 to 1991”; any information from legal cases concerning the scandal; records from police and other criminal justice agency investigations into contaminated blood; and any other information held by Central Government and other Government bodies.
As stated earlier, we must also ensure that information held by the five trusts is made available to an inquiry, and not lost as management of the ex gratia schemes is being transferred to other bodies.
The APPG is confident that with a change of sponsoring Department, a commitment to a 2005 Act inquiry and appropriate people on the panel, the inquiry will be of immense value to victims and the Government. We hope it will get truth of an historic injustice, and give those affected the justice they need.