The government has come under fire for its treatment of widows of the NHS contaminated blood scandal as a delay in death payments has left one bereaved woman penniless and facing homelessness.
Shortly before Christmas, Su Gorman held Steve Dymond’s hand as his life slipped away in hospital.
The Kent woman had cared for her husband through decades of ill health after he contracted the liver-wasting virus hepatitis C through treatment with contaminated NHS blood products. She had sacrificed her own career to do so.
Now the widow has been left in financial turmoil due to a row over paperwork related to her husband’s death and support payments he received.
Without a death certificate, which will be delayed for weeks, she is unable to start the process of claiming a discretionary £10,000 payment the government promised to widows of contaminated blood victims.
Yet, the same government scheme that administers these payments has stopped the meagre support allowance the couple lived on. A death certificate was not needed to carry out this administrative process.
This has left the grieving widow facing ruin and about to be made homeless.
“Steve and Su chose not to claim benefits because of pride and managed just on the support money, so now she has zero income for an indefinite period,” said Sue Threakall, of the campaign group Tainted Blood, who was herself widowed as a result of the blood scandal.
“Shortly before Steve’s death they had also been issued with an eviction notice from the house they had been living in. So within a month, Su will have lost her husband, her home and all her income, and all before she has even organised, let alone held, Steve’s funeral.”
Tainted Blood, which has campaigned for decades for justice for the victims of the blood scandal, has slammed the government for leaving newly bereaved widows facing this bureaucratic nightmare.
The campaign group says others are also affected by the technicality, following a change in the rules in 2014. It is estimated hundreds more spouses are likely to be impacted in the future.
Tainted Blood has called for an automatic widow’s pension to be urgently set up for the partners of those registered with the England Infected Blood Support Scheme, so that others are not left in financial destitution following a partner’s death.
Last September, HuffPost UK reported the story of another woman who had lost two husbands to the contaminated blood scandal and was being been forced to sell her home due to the financial uncertainty she faced.
A fundraiser has been launched to support Gorman, who lives in Broadstairs in Kent, and has already smashed its £1,000 target within days.
But the campaign group says she may require further financial help and has appealed for donations. Any leftover funds will be used to help other widows in similar situations.
One of the complications in the coroner’s inquiry into Dymond’s death is that his body has been removed to a facility that can carry out specialist testing for variant CJD, better known as “mad cow” disease.
The talented linguist was on the at-risk register for variant CJD following exposure through treatment with contaminated blood products.
Only after this testing is completed can his body be transferred back so that a full post-mortem can be carried out and a death certificate issued. An inquest hearing is also likely to be held.
Tributes have been pouring in through online Facebook groups since the blood victim’s death, aged 62, on December 23, commemorating him and praising the couple’s dedicated press campaigning work to raise awareness of the contaminated blood scandal.
They had appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show on the morning the Infected Blood Inquiry opened in September last year, marking a landmark moment in the fight for justice and answers over the public health disaster. The couple had dedicated countless hours to the cause over the years.
Paying tribute to her husband of 44 years, Gorman said: “I was astounded by the response and discovering how much Steve was respected and loved, as would he have been. He knew his worth but he was always very modest.”
She continued: “It’s meant so much all the lovely tributes to Steve and what we shared and were, and that in the end the victory was his over the destruction this scandal has done to our lives.
“His last words were that those responsible must do penance and I promised him we would get there and that’s a promise I intend to keep.”
Dymond was aged just 12 when he was diagnosed with mild haemophilia after a routine tooth extraction. The condition impairs the body’s ability to form blood clots and he was one of thousands of haemophiliacs later treated with blood factor products that were infected with deadly viruses, including HIV and hep C.
HuffPost UK contacted the Cabinet Office and Department for Health for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
The NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA), which administers the England Infected Blood Support Scheme on behalf of the Department for Health, later issued this statement.
“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr Dymond and currently, as his death is yet to be formally confirmed, his payments are continuing,” a spokeswoman said.
“Financial support is available to the families of deceased beneficiaries, even before a death certificate is issued. In order to access this support the relevant application needs to be completed. We have advisors ready to help bereaved families complete any applications and payments can be fast tracked within days to those facing hardship.”
* To make a donation to the ‘Help for Su’ campaign, visit this GoFundMe fundraising page
What is the contaminated blood scandal?
The story is one of government failures, commercial influence, alleged cover-ups and the use of virus-riddled blood taken from prisoners and drug addicts.
Yet decades later the contaminated blood scandal – “the worst disaster in the history of the NHS” – remains relatively unknown outside the thousands of lives torn apart by it.
In a series of catastrophic events, 3,891 people in the UK, mostly haemophiliacs, were infected with the HIV or hepatitis C (hep C) viruses, or both, through blood products used to treat them.
Other people were also infected with hep C through blood transfusions riddled with the liver-wasting virus, including new mothers given life-saving blood after childbirth.
The consequences were devastating and an estimated 2,800 have so far lost their lives.
Successive UK governments have for decades claimed the health disaster was an accident and the devastating consequences could not have been foreseen or avoided.
But those who were infected and who have lost loved ones have fought tirelessly to hold the government to account.
The landmark Infected Blood Inquiry, which is tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the scandal, was opened and adjourned last September.