Minister may finalise deal with HIV victims today

 

The Minister for Health and Children and the Irish Haemophilia Society are to hold a crucial meeting early today to try to finalise a deal on the compensation of haemophiliacs infected with HIV through contaminated blood products in the State.

The two parties have been holding talks on the matter since the middle of last month, culminating in a five-hour meeting last Tuesday night.

Mr Martin is understood to have agreed in principle to the society's demands on two crucial issues, first, that the next-of-kin of deceased people will receive the same awards as they would if the victims were alive, and, second, that psychological damage caused by the infections would be taken into account when making awards.

Neither concession was made to the hundreds of people infected with hepatitis C through blood products in the State.

A spokesman for the Department said Mr Martin had informed his Government colleagues at yesterday's Cabinet meeting of progress made to date. The spokesman was unable to say whether the Cabinet had approved specific legislation.

It is understood fears have been raised in Government circles that a precedent could be set for other claimants, including those infected with hepatitis C.

If the compensation settlements with such individuals were reopened the State could be exposed to an additional financial burden, potentially running into tens of millions of euros.

The compensation scheme is to serve as a review of a 1991 "no-fault" settlement between the State and HIV-infected haemophiliacs. Information subsequently emerg- ed to suggest the State was at least partially responsible for what happened, and as a result, in 1999, the Government promised to introduce legislation providing for increased compensation.

Levels of awards are due to be decided by the hepatitis C compensation tribunal, a body established in 1995 after the anti-D scandal came to light.

The review is expected to cost at least €20 million to the Exchequer. Already, the compensation tribunal has made 1,502 awards, totalling €292.8 million. The average award this year was €265,000.

Today's meeting comes at the end of a prolonged campaign by the IHS. Last month, the society began issuing writs against the Minister over his failure to legislate on the issue.

Mr Martin subsequently pledged to have legislation passed through the Dáil before the general election. The last opportunity would be next week.

An estimated 105 haemophiliacs were infected with HIV. Some 64 have died. Locally-made BTSB products have been linked to eight of the cases, while imported commercial concentrates have been blamed for the remainder.

The 1991 settlement, which the Government subsequently admitted was unfair, contained a fixed scale of payments ranging from £20,000 (€25,400) to £100,000 (€127,000). A stipulation of the deal was that all infected haemophiliacs had to sign up to it, thereby waiving their rights to appeal to the courts.