Victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal have been promised extra cash help, as a long-awaited public inquiry gets underway.
Annual payments will rise from £46m to £75m, Theresa May announced, describing it as “a tragedy that should never have happened”.
The boost comes ahead of the inquiry beginning to hear individuals’ testimonies about the disaster, that has killed thousands of people given blood products or transfusions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
More than 25,000 people may have been infected, Sir Brian Langstaff, a former high court judge and chair of the inquiry, told a preliminary hearing last autumn.
Nearly 3,000 people have died as a result of the contamination, and patient support groups estimate victims are still dying at the rate of one every four days.
The inquiry will start in London, before hearing witnesses in Belfast, Leeds, Edinburgh and Cardiff over the coming months, and is expected to take up to three years.
Ms May said: “The contaminated blood scandal was a tragedy that should never have happened and has caused unimaginable pain and hurt for victims and their families for decades.
“The start of the inquiry today is a significant moment for those who have suffered so much for so long, as well as for those who campaigned and fought so hard to make it happen.
“I am pleased that today we are also confirming increased financial support for beneficiaries of the infected blood support scheme in England, from £46m to £75m, and making changes so more bereaved beneficiaries will be eligible for additional support.”
The department of health said bereaved spouses and partners could also be eligible for further means-tested financial support, over and above the £75m figure.
Separate infected blood support schemes were set up in 2017 in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
The extra funding followed “extensive consultation with those affected and a recognition of the disparities that have existed across the schemes,” the department said.
The inquiry’s hearings will run from Tuesday to Friday every week and will be broadcast live online.
There is expected to be about 2,500 witness statements, with health department staff, NHS officials and politicians likely to be questioned in the later stages.
The victims included haemophilia patients who were given plasma or factor 8 products derived from many donors, while other patients who were given transfusions normally from a single donor.
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