Frank Field MP
Your MP for Birkenhead
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Ministers started to stonewall. We had to knock them off their perch

16 July 2017
Sunday Times As with so many campaigns, the revelation that haemophiliacs were being poisoned by faulty blood products came from a family visiting my constituency surgery. Twins and a son had been fed poisonous blood products.

The immediate issue was of benefit entitlement as their haemophilia marched towards yet more serious illnesses.

I was puzzled. I then believed we had the best health service in the world and couldn’t understand how this tragedy was unfolding in the lives of my constituents.

I wrote about the problem in The Sunday Times and my involvement in the campaign took off.

I half-suspected a genuine mistake until the Conservative government began to stonewall in the Commons. The Sunday Times then became the most important platform there was to knock the government off its perch.

A government’s resolve can collapse at a moment’s notice. Feelers were put out to the Haemophilia Society, which was the basis of the campaign, on an offer to settle. It was a miserly amount for what we already then knew was a killing mistake by the NHS.

The society came under huge pressure. The offer had to be taken then and there. If it wasn’t, it would be withdrawn and no new offer would be made.

As with all injustices, the issue did not go away. Many haemophiliacs died but their grievances remain and have been regularly pressed in the Commons by Diana Johnson and others.

A key question for the inquiry must be: when did the NHS first know that these blood products from America could have deadly infections in them?

The inquiry has to take into account too when would it first have been possible to screen the products and likewise why was there such a balls-up in the execution of building our own secure supply based on people freely giving blood in this country.

There’s one big lesson now for the future, apart from having a prime minister who will set up inquiries when everyone before her has kept the door firmly closed. After the London Tube and bus bombings in 2005, I proposed a national insurance scheme that would, as much as possible, undo the financial damage people suffer following such disasters.

The Commons library costed this at an estimated few pennies a year on all our national insurance contributions, both to settle these past injustices and to build up a fund for those events in this disaster-prone world that will engulf us from time to time.

The scheme is ready for the government to pick up. It can do so even before the public inquiry gets under way.

Frank Field is the Labour MP for Birkenhead


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