Penny Mordaunt stated she does not consider the Government has been dragging its feet on the problem of paying full compensation to these affected by the NHS infected blood scandal.
She was giving proof to the Infected Blood Inquiry, as bereaved family members of victims of the scandal known as on the Government to pay wider compensation.
The present Commons Chief, previously the minister liable for the Infected Blood Inquiry as paymaster common between February 2020 and September 2021, insisted there was “no let-up” in her time within the function.
However she additionally described how she had tried and did not safe a gathering with then chancellor Rishi Sunak and different Treasury ministers about getting ready for the potential for paying compensation in 2020, with Government bandwidth “very stretched” by the pandemic.
Ms Mordaunt stated the Covid pandemic had been an “all-consuming” concern, and there was a “fairly chaotic state of affairs” on the Treasury and Division of Well being on the time.
Considerations of delays within the Government’s method to compensation had been put to Ms Mordaunt, and he or she was requested if, hypothetically, the Government was intentionally dragging its feet, whether or not that may be morally objectionable.
Ms Mordaunt replied saying “sure”, it could be, however added: “That has not been my expertise in my present function.”
Elsewhere in her proof, she stated: “I do not suppose there’s any delay to shifting as shortly as we will on these issues, and it could have been pointless to have arrange this inquiry and the (compensation framework) examine not to then proceed with making redress.”
The inquiry was established in 2017 to look at how 1000’s of sufferers within the UK had been infected with HIV and hepatitis C by way of contaminated blood merchandise within the Nineteen Seventies and Eighties.
About 2,400 folks died in what has been labelled the worst therapy catastrophe within the historical past of the NHS.
Inquiry chairman Sir Brian Langstaff has stated that an interim compensation scheme ought to be widened so extra folks – together with orphaned youngsters and fogeys who misplaced youngsters – may very well be compensated.
Sir Brian stated in April that he was taking the weird step of publishing the advice forward of the publication of the complete report into the scandal in order that victims would not face any extra delays.
Underneath the preliminary scheme, victims themselves or bereaved companions can obtain an interim cost of round £100,000.
The inquiry has really helpful the Government set up an arms-length compensation physique now and positively earlier than the ultimate report within the autumn.
The proof session heard how Ms Mordaunt wrote to Mr Sunak when he was chancellor on July 13 2020 saying: “I consider it to be inevitable that the Government might want to present substantial compensation. The prices are prone to be excessive.”
“I consider we should always start getting ready for this now, earlier than the inquiry experiences,” she stated within the letter.
Ms Mordaunt informed the inquiry she did not obtain a written response, or perhaps a formal acknowledgement to say it had been obtained, however she added there have been “discussions between officers”.
The dearth of a response would have been uncommon at different occasions, she stated, however famous the state of affairs was “not regular” throughout the pandemic.
She then wrote once more in September 2020, saying: “I can not stress sufficient the urgency of taking lengthy overdue motion on monetary help and compensation.”
In a handwritten addition to the letter, she wrote: “We’ve concepts a few answer to this and have been attempting for a while to safe a gathering with you.”
In his written proof to the inquiry, Mr Sunak stated it was “unclear” whether or not he noticed both of Ms Mordaunt’s letters, however that it was not unusual for his correspondence to be filtered by ministers’ workers.
He stated a holding response was despatched to the second letter in September, however added “I do not know if anything occurred thereafter”.
On the time taken to fee a examine taking a look at choices for a framework for compensation, first introduced in March 2021, Ms Mordaunt stated: “This was towards a backdrop of immense exercise on that all-consuming concern of the pandemic.
“So I feel that was an element when it comes to velocity of response to issues. However I feel not an unreasonable one given how a lot bandwidth that that concern was absorbing in Government.”
Requested if in hindsight it took too lengthy to fee the examine, she stated: “I feel that every little thing in regards to the state of affairs has taken too lengthy.
“In my shift as paymaster common I do not suppose we might have labored quicker in thrashing out and coping with a few of these points.”
She additionally informed the inquiry: “I feel that there’s a ethical obligation to handle the various points that these affected by this have, and I’m very acutely aware that that may’t occur quickly sufficient.”
Applause may very well be heard coming from the room when Ms Mordaunt’s proof session got here to an finish.