The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has not pledged any long term commitment for HIV payment contributions in Scotland past the current financial year, an inquiry has heard.
Scotland’s Public Health Minister, Mairi Gougeon, told the Infected Blood Inquiry that HIV payments operate differently under the Scottish Infected Blood Support (SIBS) scheme which was set up in April 2017.
Giving evidence remotely from St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh she explained there had been discussions with the previous Public Health Minister in 2016 or 2017 about the future of HIV funding – and whether DHSC would be continuing payments or if the Scottish Government would fund it through Barnett consequentials.
Samantha Baker, team leader of the Infected Blood Team in the Scottish Government’s Health Protection Division, also gave evidence remotely from a separate room in St Andrew’s House.
When asked by lead counsel Jenni Richards QC about the funding, she said: “Under normal arrangements we should receive Barnett consequentials for that because as far we were aware we never received any Barnett consequentials from the UK Government following devolution in relation to HIV schemes.
“We proposed that but DHSC came back and suggested, instead, they would continue providing HIV funding rather than writing a Barnett consequential.
“They’ve done that since and agreed to do so this financial year although it’s not yet clear if that and they will continue long term.”
Ms Richards asked if this constrained what the Scottish Government could do, to which Ms Baker replied: “No, it doesn’t, because we set our funding based on the funding we think we’ll get”.
She added there is “a slight difficulty in that normally we only get told how much HIV funding we’ll get in December of each year”, with finances calculated internally.
Ms Baker added she raised “concerns about when it’s been less than we’ve expected but effectively there’s not much we can do about it”.
When asked by Ms Richards if the Scottish Government has been informed that DHSC will not continue to provide the support, Ms Baker said: “That was the position at the time this was written, which I think was the end of July, early August last year.
“We were told when we were doing the parity calculations, at the time, that we should include funds for the HIV payments, as DHSC felt that they wouldn’t have funding for that.
“However, since then, I think at the end of April, DHSC did confirm that they would be providing HIV funding for this year – it’s something that I’ve raised with them in terms of trying to ensure clarity on that.
“They are providing the funding this year, although it’s not clear if that funding will continue in future years.”
The QC asked if there has been no longer term commitment from DHSC to continue this arrangement.
Ms Baker said: “No, we’ve agreed it’s something we need to discuss further in future but unfortunately there’s there’s no commitment from them.”
Ms Richards asked if the UK Government department had any say or influence on policy in regards to the HIV funding which Ms Gougeon said: “No, certainly not, as far as I’m aware.”
A DHSC spokeswoman said: “The infected blood tragedy should never have happened.
“The ongoing public inquiry was set up to establish the truth and give individuals and families the answers they rightly deserve.
“We’ve always been clear that those who have been affected by this disaster should be supported through a fair and transparent scheme that focuses on their welfare and provides long-term independence.
“HIV payments are funded on a year-by-year basis and we confirmed the funding for 2021-2022 earlier this year.
“The government has listened to the call for parity of support across the UK and we have confirmed there will be a package for the whole of the UK which brings with it broader parity to the four national support schemes.”
UK Government Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to give evidence to the inquiry before Sir Brian Langstaff later this week.