Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Can the Tories ensure the infected blood scandal never happens again?

Rishi Sunak (Credit: Getty images)

Are the compensation payments announced today for victims of the infected blood scandal a just response to what happened? Paymaster General John Glen announced that on top of the £100,000 interim payments already made to victims, an additional £210,000 will be paid within 90 days. Glen explained the urgency: ‘I recognise that each week members of the infected blood community are dying from their infections. There may be people – indeed, there will be people – listening today who are thinking to themselves that they may not live to receive compensation, so I want to address those concerns, too.’

Families and carers for those infected will be able to claim in their own right, and an arms-length body administering the compensation will be set up immediately. People infected with HIV could be eligible for between £2.2 million and £2.6 million, and those infected with both HIV and hepatitis between £2.3 million and £2.7 million. Glen did not provide details of the total bill, which has repeatedly been estimated at £10 billion, but he said ‘there is no restriction on the budget… where we need to pay, we will pay’. 

Tackling institutional failings on this scale will be a Herculean effort

Interestingly, the focus of the questions from MPs after the statement was more on how to avoid another scandal and how the institutions that should have prevented it failed. That included parliament, with Chris Bryant pointing out that there had been no select committee investigations and few questions from MPs, save a few noble exceptions such as Diana Johnson. He warned that ‘this will all happen again, unless we change the way our do our parliamentary politics, because parliament failed, as did the whole of British politics’.

Others, including David Davis, demanded that the recommendations in yesterday’s report for a statutory duty of candour on public servants be implemented immediately. Davis said ministers could use legislation going through parliament now to introduce this duty.

Labour’s frontbench made similar noises: Nick Thomas-Symonds said: ‘Sir Brian Langstaff’s findings on institutional defensiveness, and on putting the reputation of people and protection institutions above public service, follow on from other scandals such as Hillsborough and Horizon. That is why we must deliver a duty of candour and the political leadership that we need to replace that culture of defensiveness with openness and transparency.’

These points weren’t really within Glen’s remit, though he promised that the government would ‘respond powerfully to that, and we will, in due course’.  As I said yesterday, though, tackling institutional failings on this scale will be a Herculean effort: one for a government far stronger and with much greater longevity than this one.

Isabel Hardman
Written by
Isabel Hardman
Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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