Plea to increase winter fuel payments of contaminated blood scandal victims
The Scottish Government has called for victims of the contaminated blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s to have their winter fuel payments at least doubled this year.
Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison has now written to UK Public Health Minister Jane Ellison seeking her agreement to the increase, described as an interim measure while existing UK-wide financial support schemes are reviewed.
Ms Robison said it would be a "simple and effective way" to give some extra help to those affected.
Nearly 3,000 people in Scotland, many of whom were haemophiliac patients, are estimated to have been infected with hepatitis C from infected blood or blood products given to them by the NHS in the 1970s and 1980s.
Dozens acquired HIV through similar treatments and t housands more are thought to have been affected across the UK as a whole.
People in the UK who were infected with hepatitis C in the scandal currently receive winter fuel payments from the Caxton Foundation charity.
These range from about £300 to £500 annually depending on the funding available to the foundation each year.
But the Scottish Government said a recent increase in registrants has put more pressure on the charity's budget.
Because it is funded by the governments of the UK, any plan to increase the payments would have to be agreed by ministers from all four nations.
The Scottish Government has proposed that the payments be upped to about £1,000 this winter. Any increase, if approved, would be replicated across the UK.
Scottish ministers would also like to see similar payments made to the Macfarlane Trust and Eileen Trust, which support those affected by HIV.
Ms Robison said: "In Scotland we remain fully committed to improving the financial support on offer to people affected by this hugely distressing chapter in the history of our health service.
"We are working on creating that long-term solution, but in the meantime we want to see interim arrangements put in place while those UK-wide support schemes are reviewed.
"During our discussions with patient groups they have raised the issue of interim payments and noted that winter can be a time of particular hardship for those infected and their families - particularly those on lower incomes.
"I believe that increasing the winter fuel payments made through the Caxton Foundation would be a simple and effective way to give some extra help.
"By at least doubling these payments this winter, we can give people some vital additional support as they wait for the improved financial schemes to come into effect."
Dan Farthing Sykes, chief executive of Haemophilia Scotland, said: "There are people all over Scotland living in intense financial hardship as a direct result of being infected with HIV and hepatitis C through the contaminated blood disaster.
"Some are struggling to pay for the fundamentals of life such as keeping a roof over their head, food on their table, or their lights on.
"The Scottish Government has brought forward a practical suggestion to put money in the pockets of those who desperately need it."
A statutory Scottish public inquiry into the issue of infected blood - the only one carried out in the UK - reported its findings earlier this year.
But the six-year Penrose Inquiry, which cost millions of pounds and made a single recommendation, was branded a "whitewash" by some victims of the scandal.
Following the publication, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed £25 million of transitional funding to improve support for affected patients while financial support schemes are being reviewed. It is understood a decision on how this will be spent is due in 2016/17.
The Scottish Government also announced a review of the financial support available north of the border. A financial review group, including patient group representatives, is expected to deliver its recommendations to ministers before the end of the year.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We understand that this tragedy has been extremely distressing for those affected and their families. Financial assistance and other support continues to be a priority and we remain committed to helping those who have been affected."