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State bill for infected blood may exceed 1.1bn
778m already awareded to those with HIV, Hepatitis C
Irish Times 22/08/2007

by Martin Wall

The State's bill for compensating people who contracted HIV or hepatitis C from the contamination of blood products is ultimately set to reach more than 1.1 billion, according to new figures produced by the Department of Health.

Internal Department of Health documents seen the The Irish Times show that the Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal has already paid out 778 million to more than 2,200 claimants.

However, the department briefing paper says there are some 1,100 cases still awaiting to be heard by the tribunal.

“The Tribunal's conservative estimate for the cost of settling these claims is 381 million”, the briefing paper states. It says that of the 1,100 outstanding claims awaiting, some 265 concern primary claimants – those people directly infected.

“Nearly 500 relate to claims arising after death, and nearly 400 relate to claims for loss of consortium and/or carer claims,” the briefing paper adds.

The Lindsay tribunal found that about 250 people had been infected with HIV or Hepatitis C as a result of contaminated blood products used for the treatment of haemophilia.

Separately, about 1,600 women were infected with the hepatitis C virus as a result of receiving contaminated anti-D blood products.

The briefing paper says that an insurance support scheme established by the Government last year for people who had been infected with hepatitis C and HIV through the administration of contaminated blood products could cost up to 90 million over its 25-year lifetime.

The scheme aimed to address problems faced by this group due to their inability to purchase mortgage protection and life insurance policies as a result of having received infected blood and blood products.

Department of Health officials also signalled last year that the cost of providing medical services to people infected by contaminated blood products was set to increase significantly.

Officials said the cost of providing free GP, drug and other services to patients who contracted hepatitis C as a result of contaminated blood products was in the region of 15 million per year.

“The average cost per eligible person is 10,000, but will increase as the cohort ages, particularly in respect of home support services and home nursing”, officials said last year.

The Department of Health also revealed last year that the tribunal had made awards to about 2,200 people.

It said that up to that point more than 70 million has been paid by the State in legal fees for compensation claims.

The annual report of the tribunal for 2005, which was published last November, showed that the average award in that year was 143,647.

The report showed that 807 people had lodged new claims in 2005 and that awards had been made in 304 cases totalling 43.7million.

It revealed that awards made in 2005 ranged from 14,000 to 1,624,383.

The highest award paid since the tribunal was established in 1995 was 3.1 million.

Under the rules of the scheme, claimants can opt for provisional awards, which means they can seek additional compensation if their health deteriorates in the future.

The tribunal was established by the Government in 1995 to compensate people affected by a series of blood contamination scandals.

After extensive legal advice, the Government ruled out the possibility of suing the US manufacturers of blood – clotting products tainted with hepatitis C and HIV.

In July 2003, two former members of staff at the Blood Transfusion Service Board, Cecily Cunningham and Dr Terry Walsh, were charged with “unlawfully and maliciously” causing a noxious substance, namely infected anti-D, to be taken by seven women, thereby inflicting grievous bodily harm contrary to the Offences Against the Person Act.

Dr Walsh, who was a consultant haematologist and former assistant national director with the blood bank, died last year, while Ms Cunningham, the former principal bio-chemist at the BTSB, failed in July in a legal attempt to halt her trial.