FEDERAL minister Peter Dutton advised a tainted blood victim to apply for a Commonwealth act of grace payment in 2014 despite years of governments refusing compensation to people infected with hepatitis C via blood products decades ago.
The offer from the then Liberal health minister to a former senior government official infected with hepatitis C after cancer surgery in 1989 was made only four years after the Labor Federal Government rejected a Haemophilia Foundation campaign for ex gratia payments to help tainted blood victims cope with long-term consequences of hepatitis C.
The offer by Mr Dutton was revealed this week as some tainted blood victims ramped up their campaign for the Federal Government to act on a Senate inquiry's recommendations from 2004, including a formal government apology to people infected with hepatitis C because of blood transfusions and blood products in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, and a national committee to oversee appropriate support for surviving tainted blood victims dealing with conditions including liver cancer and cirrhosis.
Hunter tainted blood campaigner Charles MacKenzie and haemophilia tainted blood victim Greg Ball protested outside a Haemophilia Foundation Australia conference in Sydney on Friday, saying the haemophilia group had failed to strongly advocate for the kind of support some victims needed, or for an inquiry into decisions by authorities in the 1980s that led to thousands being exposed to hepatitis C.
Queensland federal Labor MP Shayne Neumann, who has strongly supported the former senior government official who contracted hepatitis C after surgery in 1989, described the tainted blood scandal as "a terrible tragedy" and "a stain on us".
The few thousand Australians with hepatitis C because of transfusions or blood products for haemophilia were "the forgotten people" whose specific needs were not acknowledged as the Federal Government prioritised a hepatitis C cure campaign to treat more than 230,000 Australians with hepatitis C, Mr Neumann said.
The vast majority of those 230,000 are people infected with hepatitis C because of injecting drug use.
"I think it's time we should have a good look at the background to it and address the questions that still need to be answered," he said.
Mr Neumann said the isolation that some tainted blood victims felt was real, and the threat of litigation was most likely the best explanation for governments over the years refusing to respond to calls for an apology and compensation.
He had "high hopes" a decade ago that the federal Labor government would deliver a formal apology to tainted blood victims and act on Senate inquiry recommendations from 2004, but it did not happen.
"The current government's never shown any interest in it," he said.
Mr Neumann said he would speak with shadow health minister Chris Bowen in light of comments by United Kingdom Infected Blood Inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff's criticism of UK health authorities' "lack of attention" to its tainted blood victims.
In a letter in September Sir Brian expressed disappointment about Public Health England's focus "on the risks associated with drug users", which "risks exacerbating the stigma felt by those infected through transfusion".
A 2013 Victorian study of 700 haemophilia patients found 219 had hepatitis C. The study found that despite many haemophilia patients having the condition for more than 20 years, with hepatitis C being a "leading cause" of death and disabilities, "data regarding treatment rates of hepatitis C in bleeding disorder patients are lacking".
"Of equal concern is the possibility that a proportion of these patients remained untested for hepatitis C," the study found.
"The Australian Red Cross estimates between 3500 and 8000 Australians were infected with hepatitis C from blood products before 1990 but the true incidence remains unknown due to the absence of a formal reporting system."
The study warned that patients with mild bleeding disorders "may not present until end-stage consequences develop".
"There is no comprehensive database which would allow us to determine definitely which patients have actually been exposed to blood products."
A 2018 study confirmed that "the current prevalence of hepatitis C among patients with bleeding disorders in Australia is unknown, including treatment uptake and outcome".
The study using data from the Australian Bleeding Disorders Registry concluded that "an ongoing challenge is to identify all potential risk patients".
Gastroenterological Society of Australia Associate Professor Simone Strasser said new treatments for hepatitis C from 2016 had cure rates of more than 95 per cent, and rates of liver cancer "have gone down considerably".
About 70,000 Australians have so far been treated for hepatitis C, the large majority injecting drug users.
The former senior government official advised by Peter Dutton to apply for an act of grace payment said an apology from the federal government was important, despite tainted blood victims being infected with hepatitis C decades ago.
"The governments of Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Scotland have issued formal apologies, but not Australia," the former official, who did not want to be identified, said.
"It's not just a symbolic thing. A formal apology is a recognition by government that this actually happened," he said.
"That needs to be a priority. Then there needs to be a full judicial inquiry that's totally independent of government because whatever goes through government is going to be tainted."
The Federal Government makes act of grace payments when Commonwealth legislation or policy has had "an unintended, anomalous, inequitable or otherwise unacceptable impact" on a person.
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