We were pleased that 40 people from across Scotland made the trip to the Queen’s Hotel in Perth to attend the joint, Haemophilia Scotland and Scottish Infected Blood Forum (SIBF), campaign meeting. We were pleased to welcome Catherine Nalty, Deputy Secretary of the Infected Blood Inquiry, to update us on the progress of the Inquiry and answer any questions. Lynn Fraser from Thompsons Solicitors Scotland also attended to give those registered with Thompsons a chance to talk to her.
In her opening remarks Catherine Nalty explained that part of her job in the Inquiry is helping Sir Brian Langstaff, Chair of the Inquiry, to keep his promise that infected and affected people would be at the heart of the Inquiry. She also passed on the thanks of Sir Brian to everyone who had given a statement as they appreciate how difficult that can be. She also emphasised that the Inquiry recognised that giving a statement wasn’t appropriate for everyone and said they appreciated all the different ways people are engaging with their work.
There was a long discussion about how the oral hearings will work. Sir Brian is reading every statement and he has a team of lawyers picking out key themes. They are selecting about 120 people from across the UK to give oral evidence at the upcoming hearings. Hearing days aren’t being themed so every day is equally important. On each day three people will give evidence for about 90 minutes. The Inquiry hopes that infected and affected people who give evidence will feel reassured and supported. Questioning will aim to help explore their experiences rather than to pick holes in their statements. The hearing room will be arranged so witnesses are facing their family, friends, and supporters. We hope there will be a good turnout from the community to support our witnesses.
All evidence will be given under oath whether the witness is from our community or is a government official. Arrangements will be in place to protect the identify of those who want to give evidence anonymously including a restriction on reporting which might lead to someone being identified without their consent. Witnesses are being identified in the order that they will appear. That means that because the Scottish hearings are relatively late in the process there is still brief window of opportunity to finish your statement or indicate that you’d like to give oral evidence if you haven’t already done so.
The Inquiry now has about 150 people and most of them are working on the investigation. So that the Inquiry doesn’t take any longer than it needs to, new staff are being recruited as they are needed to keep on top of the growing workload.
Documents are being received from a wide range of sources including the Penrose Inquiry, the Department of Health and Social Care, Blood Transfusion Services, and the National Archives. When they are received they are scanned onto the Inquiry’s document management system and returned. Some core participants will be able to access this document management system. If you are interested in being one of them please talk to your legal representatives to register your interest. For most people in Scotland that is Thompsons Solicitors Scotland.
The current membership of the Expert Groups is available on the Inquiry website. However, they are still recruiting and keen to get nominations from the infected and affected community. Part of the role of the Expert Groups will be to make any recommendations the Inquiry makes as relevant and practical as possible to increase the chances they are effectively implemented.
List of Issues
On the 20 December 2018 the Inquiry released a List of Issues containing 362 questions which will guide its work. This is a living document and the Inquiry are keen to get feedback on the questions from infected and affected people. If you notice anything is missing please let the Inquiry know, through your legal representative if you have one. Thompsons Solicitors Scotland is working on this at the moment.
There were a lot of questions from people at the meeting covering a wide range of issues. Some of them have been taken away to be looked at in more detail by the Inquiry while others were dealt with in the meeting. The questions raised included,
- Holding the hearings during the school holidays.
- Security of medical records if the Glasgow Royal Infirmary Haemophilia Unit moves.
- The amount of time available to complete statements before the deadline.
- Whether the Inquiry would use its powers to compel evidence.
- How the Inquiry can access government files which are protected for a set number of years.
- Importance of mentioning gaps in medical records in statements.
- Questions arising from opening statements given at the preliminary hearing.
The meeting also received an update on the Contaminated Blood Memorial. There was a call for additional fundraising ideas and a discussion about progress towards finding a permanent home for the memorial. The artistic merit of the design may prove relevant to where it could be located.
Bill Wright also reported back on a positive meeting with The Rt. Hon David Lidington MP, the de-facto Deputy Prime Minister. There were discussions about everyone in the UK to get the financial support they would be entitled to if they were a beneficiary of the best of the national support schemes for their situation. In most cases this would mean getting the Scottish scheme entitlement so there is less benefit in this approach for those in Scotland than there would be for those in the rest of the UK.
Finally, people were asked to feed in their experience of the Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme chronic category self-assessment to Dan Farthing, Haemophilia Scotland, or Tommy Leggate, Scottish Infected Blood Forum. It is especially important to hear from anyone who was involved in the audit of that process.