Rishi Sunak was heckled for failing to answer questions over delays to a full compensation scheme for victims of the NHS infected blood scandal.
The prime minister’s evidence to the infected blood inquiry was met with groans, jeers and even laughter from those listening.
The reaction prompted Sir Brian Langstaff, chair of the inquiry, to remind people watching Mr Sunak that there is a tradition of “respecting the witness”.
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Thousands of people died in what is widely recognised as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS after being given contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
Campaigners want to see all those infected and affected paid compensation, as recommended by the inquiry chair, but the government has said it will wait for a full report into the scandal before deciding on the matter.
Mr Sunak recognised that the scandal is not just about “historic wrongs”, accepting that every four days someone dies as a result, with only an interim payments scheme for victims and bereaved partners set up so far, in October 2022.
However, he declined to give a timeframe for when the scheme might be widened to those whose children or parents died.
Asked by inquiry counsel Jenni Richards KC if he understands if justice delayed is justice denied, Mr Sunak said victims have been “let down for decades by successive governments”.
But the audience groaned and one person said “you don’t listen” when he appeared to distance himself over delays during his time in cabinet.
Mr Sunak faced questions over correspondence about preparing for the “inevitable” compensation scheme sent to him by Penny Mordaunt, then paymaster general, when he was chancellor in 2020.
The prime minister said officials dealt with the inquiries.
Ms Richards asked: “Over three years and still no concrete compensation framework insights and no information about what it might look like. Is that good enough?”
The audience groaned as Mr Sunak answered: “Now, having not been at the time responsible for initiating this inquiry in 2018, 2017 when it was announced and determining its terms of reference, it’s hard for me to second guess the process that was envisaged at the time or what I would have done differently.”
There was also a round of laughter after he said “extensive” work across government had been undertaken so it can act as quickly as possible, adding “that work continues at pace”.
More laughter and groans came when the prime minister failed to say if the government has actions ready to go upon the conclusion of the inquiry after being asked several times.
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The Infected Blood Inquiry was established in 2017 to examine how thousands of patients in the UK developed HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products.
About 2,900 people have since died.
Many had the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia and were given injections of the US product Factor VIII.
Around 380 children infected with HIV through blood products in UK
Sir Brian has said an interim compensation scheme should be widened so more people – including orphaned children and parents who lost children – can be compensated.
He said in April he was taking the unusual step of making the recommendation ahead of the publication of the full report into the scandal so that victims would not face any more delays.
Following the PM’s evidence session, campaign group Factor 8 said: “Regrettably, the prime minister offered neither new information nor commitments to the victims and bereaved families of the Infected Blood Scandal.
“Despite our impassioned plea in the letter delivered to him on Monday, urging swift action in line with the inquiry’s recommendations, he did not take this golden opportunity to advance the cause of justice for victims and their families. Our hearts are heavy.”