Representatives from SIBF and Haemophilia Scotland met with Joe Fitzpatrick, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, on 27th September at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
We provided an update on our experience of attending the UK Infected Blood Inquiry Preliminary Hearings.
This included our profound disappointment at the debacle we witnessed of a cross-border public spat between officials of the Inquiry and of the Scottish Government.
The BBC’s coverage of it is here.
The Minister responded to both charity’s concerns via a letter written later that same day:
“Thank you for coming to meet me today. In the meeting I agreed to write to you urgently in relation to the UK Infected Blood Inquiry.
I want to confirm in writing that the Scottish Government does intend to apply for core participant status in the UK Inquiry. As I explained, while we are not yet registered as a core participant, I can assure you that we have always intended to become core participants in the Inquiry. It is very unfortunate if Counsel to the Inquiry gave people the impression that the Scottish Government did not intend to participate as this is not correct and I am sorry for any distress or misunderstandings this has caused for yourself and the Scottish people who are affected. I also regret that we did not communicate more with you about the reasons for the fact we have not yet sought core participation; we agreed to make sure you are kept informed on developments regarding the Inquiry in future.
I can assure you that the Scottish Government has already been working hard to contribute to the Inquiry, for example by writing to NHS Boards to ensure they do not destroy any documents which may be relevant and working with the National Records of Scotland to locate documents and file lists so that these can be provided to the Inquiry.
Therefore, whilst we are still seeking to iron out some points with the Cabinet Office, we do expect to seek core participant status soon. As you know, we have been discussing points regarding the fact that the terms of reference are slightly different from what we thought had been originally agreed in earlier discussions and regarding financial support for the Scottish Government and NHS bodies. However, I must emphasise that it’s not all about money and that we do largely welcome the Inquiry’s terms of reference.
I hope this letter gives you some reassurance that the Scottish Government does take the Inquiry seriously and is, like you, keen to ensure that it can help give people infected in Scotland and their families more answers about what happened and why.”
SIBF and Haemophilia Scotland formally responded to the Minister by letter on 8th October:
“Thank you for the promptness of your letter following our meeting on 27 September confirming in writing that the Scottish Government does intend to apply for core participant status in the Infected Blood Inquiry. We welcome this affirmation. Both charities are publishing your letter, and this reply, online so our joint membership is fully aware of the current situation.
While many of our members will be relieved you are committed to engaging fully with the Inquiry, we cannot consider this matter resolved until the Scottish Government is confirmed as an organisational core participant.
You are aware of the damage that secrecy has done to infected and affected people as a fundamental element of the contaminated blood and blood products disaster. In the current circumstances that means it is incumbent on the Scottish Government to be as candid as possible about what outstanding issues remain as a bar to you making your core participant application. In particular:
- Do you object to any of the agreed Terms of Reference? If so, which ones and what are you proposing as alternatives?
- Did you have any prior agreement from the Cabinet Office that they would meet any, or all, of the costs associated with the involvement of the Scottish Government with the Infected Blood Inquiry?
- Did the Cabinet Office give you any assurances that evidence examined by the Penrose Inquiry would not be included in the work of the Infected Blood Inquiry? If it did, how was it envisaged that this assurance would be enforced once the Inquiry had been established and the delivery of the agreed terms of reference was entirely the duty of the Chair to ensure the independence of the process?
Our own view is that the Penrose Inquiry was comparatively effective at gathering evidence, establishing the underlying facts of the elements of the disaster within its terms of reference, and producing a chronology of events. However, it utterly failed to provide an analysis of those facts to ensure all possible lessons were learnt or apportion responsibility, as evidenced by the fact its only recommendation was a repetition of a recommendation made 12 years previously by the Expert Panel under Lord Ross. The Infected Blood Inquiry should therefore be able to rely on the evidence that was gathered and tested by the Penrose Inquiry. However, by definition, this evidence will have to revisit in sufficient detail to allow unasked questions to be put, the wider terms of reference of the Infected Blood Inquiry to be reflected, and the Chair to complete the unfinished analytical work of the Penrose Inquiry resulting in appropriate recommendations.
As was discussed when we met, the time for negotiation between the Scottish Government and the Cabinet Officer ran out at the start of the Infected Blood Inquiry Preliminary Hearings. We don’t believe infected and affected people in Scotland can be expected to wait any longer to have this matter resolved. The longer this situation continues the more the hard-won trust that has developed between the community and the Scottish Government is undermined. As we made clear in person last Thursday, the current situation is untenable and unacceptable.
Allowing disagreements with the Cabinet Office over funding and terms of reference to stand between victims and justice sends entirely the wrong message to our community. Hitherto the Scottish Government response has been characterised by accepting a moral duty to those affected and working collaboratively to both meet current needs and learn relevant lessons for the future. We are as anxious, as we are sure you are, to return to that constructive relationship. Therefore, can you please confirm accordingly, when you anticipate being able to apply for core participant status?
We very much look forward to hearing from you.”
We will provide updates as matters progress.