The government has announced it is to add almost £30 million to a fund for victims of the contaminated blood scandal in England on the same day as a public inquiry begins.
But campaign groups have responded angrily, calling the announcement a “derisory offer” that they claim is an “attempt to overshadow an important day for the victims”.
Thousands of haemophiliacs and other hospital patients in the 1970s and 1980s were given blood products infected with hepatitis C and HIV, with around 2,400 people left dead.
As hearings begin in central London on Tuesday, the government announced extra money would go to thousands of people affected by the medical catastrophe in England.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said victims will receive more money and more bereaved partners of victims will also be eligible for support.
“This will see regular annual payments for some of those infected substantially increase, from a total of £46 million to £75 million,” the department said.
Jason Evans, founder of the Factor 8 campaign group, said members would be “bitterly disappointed” with the “insulting actions”.
He said: “Today’s announcement is not welcome. People are sick and dying, families are dealing with severe bereavement but the government refuses to accept its clear liability and pay compensation.
“Instead of paying compensation, the government provides criteria ridden and means tested scraps. These begging bowls are available only to those who meet certain requirements and exclude many of those affected.
“If the government truly wants to do the right thing they will provide a statement accepting their liability now, there is no reason why they cannot do that before the Inquiry reports and without delay, this was the approach taken in the Republic of Ireland.”
Des Collins, senior partner at Collins Solicitors, which represents more than 1,000 victims, their families and eight campaign groups, said: “The increase in the payments heralded today by the government is miniscule in real terms for those whose health has suffered so significantly, for so long.
“These payments provide a minimal level of support and I fear that the increase announced today will do little to help offset the challenges that many people are facing.
“It also seems a missed opportunity to make the system simpler and fairer for applicants who have to date been virtually excluded from any ongoing support, particularly for bereaved spouses and partners who now ‘could be eligible’ via ongoing ‘means-tested discretionary top-up payments’.
“Furthermore, they bring us no closer to a fair and final resolution. These payments should not seen as any form of compensation. The government has denied compensation to the victims since the scandal emerged and continues to maintain this position.”
He urged the government to “accept its legal liability for the scandal and pay compensation to the victims and families now, in order to spare them the torment of a lengthy legal battle as more victims die”.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The contaminated blood scandal was a tragedy that should never have happened and has caused unimaginable pain and hurt for victims and their families for decades.
“I know this will be a difficult time for victims and their families - but today will begin a journey which will be dedicated to getting to the truth of what happened and in delivering justice to everyone involved.”
Infected blood support schemes were set up in 2017 - with country-specific programmes in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
The funding increase “follows extensive consultation with those affected and a recognition of the disparities that have existed across the schemes”, the DHSC added.
The Infected Blood Inquiry will hear from victims at the hearing in Fleetbank House, central London, before similar testimonies take place over the coming months in Belfast, Leeds, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
The inquiry is chaired by former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff.
Sir Brian said: “As I promised at the outset, people and their experiences are at the heart of this inquiry, and that the inquiry is honouring its undertaking to hear directly in major centres around the whole of the UK from those infected by blood or blood products, and those who have been affected by this.
“I have little doubt that their testimony will not only be poignant but also a powerful tool in helping to get to the truth of what happened.”