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1 December 2010, 15:43
A former model who was infected with hepatitis C after being given a blood transfusion more than 20 years ago lost her High Court bid today to challenge the legality of a Government compensation scheme.
A QC for Sharon Moore said at a recent hearing in London that it appeared the Department of Health was ``looking for ways of not making payments'' to a whole category of people accidentally given contaminated blood in the mid-1980s during ``the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS''. But on Wednesday Mr Justice Kenneth Parker ruled the ex gratia scheme had been operated ``rationally and lawfully''.
50 year old Sharon, from Dunstable, received her transfusion at Luton and Dunstable Hospital in June 1987 after collapsing with severe anaemia caused by ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the intestine. It was not until March 1998, almost 11 years later, that the National Blood Service wrote to her GP and Ms Moore was told she may have been infected with hepatitis C.
She underwent tests and had to wait six weeks before being told the virus had ``cleared naturally'' from her system at some point since 1987.
But she was warned there was an increased risk of developing liver cancer and variant CJD because of the contaminated blood.
Her claim for state compensation for the ordeal she suffered was rejected on three occasions by the Skipton Fund, the independent body responsible for administering the Government's compensation scheme.
She was told her third claim failed because she could not prove the hepatitis virus was in her system for more than six months. After she launched judicial review proceedings last year, the fund managers agreed their decision should be quashed and her case reconsidered.
But her prospects of receiving an award under the scheme were placed in doubt by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's continuing refusal to abandon the requirement that ``natural clearers'' must prove that they were infected with the virus for more than six months.
Mr Justice Parker rejected her application for judicial review against the Health Secretary's stance. The judge said: ``I have found the scheme is rational and lawful and that the burden on the applicant (Ms Moore) to show that she fell within the particular category of ex gratia compensation scheme was reasonable in the circumstances.''
It was ``no more than common sense'' that, given the statistical improbability of an infected person clearing the virus spontaneously after six months' infection, any decision-maker would begin with an ``assumption'' that the applicant ``did not fall within that statistically small category, unless medical evidence showed that he or she was more likely than not to have cleared the virus spontaneously after such period''.
Andrew Lockley, Partner at Irwin Mitchell, represented Ms Moore. Commenting on the judgement he said:
“Ms Moore was the innocent victim of a dreadful error and it’s important to remember that her health still suffers as a direct result of the mistake which was made over 20 years ago.
“It is disappointing not to win this application for a judicial review - particularly as it would have potentially had a positive impact on other affected people who have also been unable to claim compensation through the Skipton Fund.
‘We along with Sharon are reflecting on the judgement and we will advise her of any further steps which may be available to her in due course.”