Sir John was asked during a hearing of the Infected Blood Inquiry about correspondence within government when it became apparent that compensation for victims of the scandal would be needed. The infection of up to 30,000 people with HIV or hepatitis C from contaminated blood has been called the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. Thousands died after contaminated blood products were imported from the US in the 1970s and 1980s, often from prisoners, sex workers and drug addicts who were paid to give their blood.
Sir John was asked about one letter he wrote in November 1987, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, where he said: “I have to say that although in terms of equity, there might seem to be some gains to be made from a positive response, it would seem to have very real dangers.
“How could such a precedent be ring-fenced? It could lead to an open-ended commitment of huge dimensions.
“Might it not give rise to court action against the Government because of the implication of negligence?
“Have the law offices given a view on the possible consequences of a sympathetic response?
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“I do not feel that we can afford to offer such a response until the pros and cons have been thoroughly considered.”
Asked about the letter during the public inquiry, Sir John said he was pointing out that the pros and cons must be considered, including how much compensation should be offered.
He described the effects of the scandal on victims as a “horror”, adding: “There’s no amount of compensation you can give that could actually compensate for what had happened to them.
“What had happened to them was incredibly bad luck – awful – and it was not something that anybody was unsympathetic to.”