Row over hepatitis C victims bill

NEW legislation designed to end a nine-year battle between victims of blood bank blunders and the State has provoked a major row between Health Minister Mary Harney and people inadvertently infected with hepatitis C and HIV.

The bill, which proposes subsidised insurance for those infected with contaminated blood products administered by the State, is due to go before the Dáil this morning. It contains measures which would allow those affected by the blood scandals to obtain life assurance and travel insurance on the same basis as healthy policy holders.

Many of those affected by the contamination scandals of the 1970s and 1980s have been turned down by insurance companies or quoted prohibitively high premiums, leaving some unable to obtain mortgages.

The four representative groups said yesterday, however, the legislation contained surprise elements which would reduce the number of people eligible for the subsidised schemes offered and exclude some partners of infected people from compensation.

Opposition to the bill was voiced by Transfusion Positive, Positive Action, the Irish Haemophilia Society and the Irish Kidney Association. All four called on TDs to reject the legislation in the Dáil today.

The main changes complained of include an amendment to the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Act of 1997 which would require all new applicants to the tribunal to undergo stringent scientific tests to prove their condition when previously the word of a specialist hepatitis C doctor was sufficient.

A change is also proposed to the follow-on act of 2002 which allows spouses and partners to make compensation claims for loss of “consortium”, a legal term which covers stress on a relationship and damage to intimacy and sexual relations.

Under the new legislation, people who enter a relationship knowing their spouse or partner has hepatitis C or HIV would be automatically excluded from making a claim.

Ms Harney defended the bill, saying Ireland was doing more for victims of contamination scandals compared with other countries in similar circumstances. She added the requirement for a new diagnostic test was necessary because the symptoms of hepatitis C were similar to the symptoms of other conditions.

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