'Betrayal': Sunak attacked over performance at infected blood inquiry

The prime minister was heckled and mocked when he appeared before the infected blood inquiry, as ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

Rishi Sunak has been accused of betraying infected blood scandal victims by refusing to make any new commitments when appearing at the official inquiry on Wednesday afternoon.

The prime minister agreed that compensation is owed to those infected and affected by the scandal - which saw thousands of NHS patients develop HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products - but would not commit to a timeframe.

Mr Sunak, who was giving evidence to the inquiry under oath, said he could not make any commitments until its findings had been published.

Jason Evans, the director of the UK's leading infected blood scandal campaign organisation Factor 8, said he was responding to the prime minister's evidence with "profound disappointment, dismay, and a sense of deepening sorrow".

“Regrettably, the prime minister offered neither new information nor commitments to the victims and bereaved families of the infected blood scandal."

He added that Mr Sunak’s “inaction feels like a betrayal, an unfulfilled promise” made during his bid for the Tory leadership in July last year.

The PM sparked anger at the inquiry with his answer to a question asking whether the government's response to the scandal had been "good enough".

Infected Blood Inquiry counsel Jenni Richards KC asked the prime minister: “Over three years and still no concrete compensation framework insights and no information about what it might look like. Is that good enough?”

The audience groaned as Mr Sunak answered: “I think what I’d say is, of course, people want to see… What I’d say is, in order for the government to make decisions on compensation, it rightly has asked an independent inquiry to conclude its work to provide the advice to government and recommendations about what to do."

Later, he added: "This has been going on for decades. Of course that’s not good enough. But it’s very hard for me to second guess the decisions that were made by people in good faith to establish an independent, thorough investigation of all these issues.”

The Infected Blood Inquiry was established in 2017 to examine how thousands of patients in the UK developed HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products given in the 1970s and 1980s.

About 2,900 people died in what has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

The prime minister said what had happened was an "appalling scandal", in his opening statement to the inquiry.

“I think thousands of people, obviously many in the room today and others that the chair referred to who are watching, have suffered for decades.

“It hasn’t just affected those people that have been directly impacted and affected, it’s affected their families and friends and carers as well. So it goes far beyond those who are directly impacted."

Protesters outside the inquiry have been calling on Mr Sunak to give approval to pay full compensation to all those affected by the scandal - not just victims themselves but orphaned children and parents who lost children as well.

Mr Sunak has previously said he will wait for the full report into the infected blood scandal before considering whether to extend the compensation scheme.

Under the initial scheme, only victims themselves or bereaved partners can receive an interim payment of around £100,000.

The inquiry has recommended the government establish an arm’s-length compensation body now, and definitely before the final report is made in the autumn.

Mr Sunak said it is right for the government to wait until after the Infected Blood Inquiry’s final report before announcing its compensation plan.

The PM said: “In terms of the process that I did not put in train, that is in train and I think is reasonable, I think that it is right that the inquiry finishes its work, provides those independent recommendations which it has done and is doing, and then the government acts as quickly as possible to make decisions and bring the appropriate recognition and redress to people.”

He declined to give a timeframe for the government’s response on compensation as he said he did not want to add to a “litany of broken promises”.

Clive Smith, chairman of the Haemophilia Society, said the government’s failure to act quickly on the compensation has “only compounded the suffering of those who have been waiting for this for so long”.

Protesters are demanding victims of the contaminated blood scandal and their immediate families are given full compensation. Credit: PA

He added Sir Brian had accepted in April that it would require “significant political will” to pay full compensation and that is what campaigners want to see.

“People who have waited 40 years expect to see a significant demonstration of political will and a commitment to get this done as soon as is practical,” he added.

Paymaster General Jeremy Quin told the official inquiry on Tuesday it is likely compensation will be paid.

Mr Quin said he is “aware of the number of people who are dying” while awaiting full payments after an initial scheme of interim payments was set out.

He acknowledged there is a “moral case here for compensation to be paid” but said “no decisions have been taken” on the full scheme.

“I’ve got no doubt that compensation will be paid. The form and shape of that compensation are decisions that have to be made,” the minister added.