Widows and children of haemophiliacs who died from hepatitis infection caused by contaminated blood products could be excluded from a government aid package for infected patients, campaigners warned last night.
The Haemophilia Society fears that ex gratia payments promised to infected patients in England and Wales will go no further than a package outlined for Scotland, where the executive has proposed ﾣ20,000 payments, with an extra ﾣ25,000 to those with an advanced condition.
The society believes more generous payments should be made, the final size depending on the number of dependants.
More than 210 of around 5,000 Britons infected with hepatitis C in the 70s and 80s after being given contaminated blood-clotting concentrates have died from liver cancer and other liver diseases.
Haemophilia is a condition that affects men, although women can carry the gene responsible. The government package is expected to include related, less common conditions, which can affect women.
Dependants, and many patients who have been successfully treated for the virus after years of suffering, are unlikely to benefit from the "compassionate" payments.
It is also unclear whether the 500 people co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C, or surviving close relatives, would get the award. In all, 1,240 patients infected with HIV have received payments totalling ﾣ33.5m since 1988 but only 400 of these are still alive.
Patients given payments for HIV infection had to sign a waiver promising not to pursue compensation for hepatitis, but campaigners argue that such a waiver was unfair.
Society representatives are meeting the health minister Melanie Johnson today to press for a better settlement.
The organisation's chief executive, Karin Pappenheim, said: "Surely those who have died from this terrible virus have suffered the most serious consequences of the contaminated blood disaster. It seems inconceivable that the government could even consider excluding their dependants from this scheme, yet we fear this is what is being considered."
The government has never accepted responsibility for the infections, but John Reid, the health secretary, is keen to end the embarrassing row with the haemophiliac community.