On 18th May 2021 the Inquiry heard evidence from Mr. Martin Bell, Director of Primary Care and Counter Fraud Services, SIBSS Director and Chair of SIBSS Advisory Group.
Inquiry Counsel began by asking Mr. Bell about his SIBSS team members and their interaction with beneficiaries. He said feedback from beneficiaries had been extremely positive.
Mr. Bell confirmed beneficiary numbers and provided information on how the SIBSS Terms of Reference were drawn up by the Advisory Group, which consisted of representatives from the NHS, Trusts, Hepatitis Scotland, Haemophilia Scotland Scheme members and representatives of the Scottish Government. He considered the presence of the Scottish Government representatives to be advantageous, as Group members were able to put their points across directly to them. Mr. Bell explained the role of the Advisory Group was to assist in how the Scheme was administered. Meetings would take place twice a year and also a Newsletter would be sent out to members of the Scheme.
Mr. Bell explained how the Scheme engaged with members. He explained letters would be sent to members concerning any important changes and surveys to obtain members’ opinions on the overall service of the Scheme.
Mr. Bell explained that funding for the Scheme came from the Government and the allocation was predicted and discussed every quarter. If there was need for a top up, then this had been made available to the Scheme.
Inquiry Counsel questioned Mr. Bell on how the Scheme identified new beneficiaries and the steps taken to reach these individuals. He explained they have advertised through the GP community, Advisory Networks, Scottish Government Advertising Campaigns and liaised with solicitors for the Alliance House Organisation. They have also made attempts to contact individuals turned down by the Alliance House Organisation. The discussion included beneficiary eligibility for partners and children of deceased beneficiaries.
Inquiry Counsel asked Mr. Bell to explain about the refusal of applications. He said that on occasions it was necessary to ask applicants to produce documentation to show the deceased’s death was as a direct consequence of hepatitis C i.e. a death certificate and/or medical records depending on what payment stage they were claiming at. In cases where medical records were not available, Mr. Bell described how they would rely on the expertise of Professor Hayes if documentary proof was unavailable. Professor Hayes would make a decision on the balance of probabilities whether the individual would have had cause for a blood transfusion or to be given treatment with blood products and provide his advice to SIBSS. He said the SIBSS always gave the applicant the benefit of the doubt if a decision was in the balance. He explained this policy had been set by Scottish Government to ensure the applicants were looked after.
Inquiry Counsel put questions to Mr. Bell concerning HCV and self-certification. Mr. Bell explained that self-certification allowed members to self-certify the impact on their life, highlighted that SIBSS trusted their members, speeded things up and made payments quicker and avoided bureaucracy. If a person wanted to change category, then they needed to produce a letter from a clinician for confirmation. Inquiry Counsel pointed out that in a 2020 survey, beneficiaries found the guidance for self-certification confusing.
Inquiry Counsel put questions to Mr. Bell concerning one off means tested discretionary grants and how they were assessed. Mr. Bell explained the mechanics of the process.
Inquiry Counsel discussed with Mr. Bell the declaration of SIBSS payments to the DWP. He confirmed that the Scheme advised their members to declare their payments and had written to the DWP about this.
Inquiry Counsel then put to Mr. Bell questions from Core Participants.
Mr. Bell concluded that since having to review systems etc to provide information to the Inquiry, the Scheme has identified areas for improvement and would act upon this.
For a full transcript of the evidence of Martin Bell visit https://www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk/evidence where you can read the transcript or watch the evidence via YouTube video.