A LONG-RUNNING inquiry into a health scandal that saw patients infected with hepatitis C and HIV through blood transfusions has almost quadrupled in cost, it has emerged.
The Scottish Government initially set aside £3 million for the first three years to fund the Penrose inquiry, which has been investigating how hundreds of people in Scotland, including haemophilia patients, were given contaminated NHS blood in the 1970s and 1980s.
But the latest figures obtained by The Scotsman show that, following a series of delays, as of last month the cost of the inquiry had risen to £11.3m and, by the time it reports, is projected to increase to at least £11.7m.
The cost far exceeds the amount spent on previous inquiries, including £3.94m on Lord Gill’s probe into the ICL plastics factory explosion in Glasgow in 2004 and the inquiry into the Shirley McKie fingerprint scandal at £4.75m.
The Penrose inquiry, a key commitment in the SNP’s 2007 manifesto, has suffered setbacks, including the process of sending warning letters to those being criticised in the final report taking longer than anticipated.
The inquiry was also delayed following the death of Lord Penrose’s wife.
The first hearing of the inquiry was held in March 2009, but the final report is not due to be published until this autumn. Among those anxious to hear the findings is Bruce Norval, from Fortrose, infected with hep C by transfusion in 1990. He has said: “I have campaigned on this issue for years and I now just want a final response so I can get on with what is left of my life.”
Haemophilia Scotland, which campaigned for an inquiry, called for the final report to be published as soon as possible.
Dan Farthing, the charity’s senior executive officer, said: “It would have been inexcusable if Lord Penrose had cut corners to keep costs down. An inquiry on the cheap which answered none of the big questions would be worse than no inquiry at all.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Neil Findlay, added: “This has been a complicated inquiry. It’s right that it provides a detailed and in-depth analysis on what happened so that nothing like it can ever occur again. But it’s now been ongoing for six years and the victims and their families need to know the final conclusions of the report.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said those infected with HIV and hepatitis C “deserved the answers only a public inquiry can bring”, but questioned rising costs.
While £3m was initially set aside for the inquiry between April 2008 and March 2011, the Scottish Government said funding was adjusted on a monthly basis to reflect expenditure.A spokeswoman said: “Lord Penrose will publish all costs on this inquiry when it has reported.”
An inquiry spokeswoman added: “When the inquiry was announced in 2008, £3m was set aside over the course of the spending review period.
“This was before Lord Penrose was appointed. The final terms had an impact on costs as they determined the conduct of the inquiry, including the need to provide a preliminary report and 89 days of oral hearings in 2011-12.”