Ex-model challenges infected blood damages scheme

Tuesday 23 November 2010 14:42 GMT

A former model infected with hepatitis C after being given a blood transfusion more than 20 years ago is challenging the legality of the Government's compensation scheme.

A QC for Sharon Moore said it appeared the Department of Health was "looking for ways of not making payments" to a whole category of people accidentally given contaminated blood in the mid-1980s during "the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS".

Ms Moore, 50, from Dunstable in Bedfordshire, received her transfusion at Luton and Dunstable Hospital in June 1987 after collapsing with severe anaemia caused by ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the intestines.

It was not until March 1998, almost 11 years later, that the National Blood Service wrote to her GP and Ms Moore was told she may have been infected with hepatitis C.

She underwent tests and had to wait six weeks before being told the virus had "cleared naturally" from her system at some point since 1987.

But she was also warned there was an increased risk of developing liver cancer and variant CJD because of the contaminated blood.

Her claim for state compensation for the ordeal she had suffered was rejected on three occasions by the Skipton Fund, the independent body responsible for administering the Government's compensation scheme.

She was told her third claim failed because she could not prove the hepatitis virus was in her system for more than six months.

But, after she launched judicial review proceedings last year, the fund managers agreed their decision should be quashed and her case reconsidered.

Miss Moore came to London's High Court today to challenge Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's continuing refusal to abandon the requirement that "natural clearers" must prove that they were infected with the virus for more than six months.

Her QC Rabinder Singh argued that providing such proof was "scientifically impossible" and forcing victims to provide it was "irrational and unlawful".

Lawyers estimate that about 179 people similarly infected with Hepatitis C could be directly affected if Ms Moore wins her challenge.

Lawyers for the Health Secretary say the operation of the compensation scheme is both rational and lawful.

Mr Singh told Mr Justice Kenneth Parker that the contaminated blood episode had caused the deaths of almost 2,000 people and been described by Professor Lord Winston as "the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS".

Mr Singh said: "There was a strong moral obligation to make some compensatory payment to recognise the wrong which had been committed".

Today's case had "a somewhat disturbing flavour".

It appeared that the Department of Health "is looking for ways of not making a payment to a whole category of people who, on the face of it, have moral force behind their claims - they were infected with the hepatitis C virus at the relevant time," said Mr Singh.

He also argued the Department of Health was operating an unpublished policy which was inconsistent with the published policy on ex gratia payments.

Ms Moore, who has suffered depression as a result of her experiences, was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994.

She said: "The last few years have been incredibly difficult for me.

"The truth is that I was the victim of a dreadful error and I have waited a long time for my day in court to try and achieve justice over this.

"To be still fighting for justice more than 20 years after the initial error seems to me to be very unfair because my infection was completely outside of my control, and I was not even made aware of it until 11 years later."

Ms Moore said she had been turned down for a job with the police due to her hepatitis C infection.

She believes that, because she now has to disclose her medical history on applications for insurance, she has been disadvantaged.

Andrew Lockley, head of public law at Irwin Mitchell, the solicitors firm acting for Ms Moore, said: "This case is about the simple principle of fair play.

"Ms Moore understandably feels that she and others in the same position should be entitled to compensation from the state for the state's mistake in recognition of the problems she has suffered and continues to suffer as a result of being infected with HCV more than 20 years ago.

"The Skipton Fund was set up by the Government to help victims like Ms Moore and yet the criteria for payment make it impossible for her to qualify.

"This is a very important case for Ms Moore but it's also hugely important for many other innocent victims who have been denied their access to justice over a dreadful error which affected them and their lives but was completely beyond their control."

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