Monday 26 February 2018

Hepatitis C women’s support group loses High Court action

Tim Healy

A SUPPORT group for women infected with hepatitis C after receiving contaminated blood products has lost a High Court action over the way it is funded by the HSE.

Positive Action Ltd, which advocates for women who received the blood products from the Irish Blood Transfusion Board, claimed it would lose essential funding and its independence if it was forced to sign a new agreement as required under National Financial Regulations.

The court heard there are more than 2,400 voluntary/non statutory groups in receipt of HSE funding which in 2011 amounted to around €3.4bn.

The HSE argued it has express statutory power - under the 2004 Health Act - to impose such terms and conditions as it sees fit when providing financial assistance.

Positive Action sought a High Court order that it had a legitimate expectation that an agreement it made with the HSE in 2009 would continue. 

The group has been granted aided since 1995, getting  €558,000 in 2011 with funding since continuing on an interim basis pending the outcome of today’s High Court decision.

Mr Justice George Birmingham today ruled the provision of funding  is a matter for the HSE. 

He noted Positive Action was one of four support groups that get HSE funding arising out of what he called "the contaminated blood products disaster."  Two had signed new  standard agreements sought by the HSE while Positive Action and another group had signed non-standard agreements.

He said if the HSE could reduce or discontinue funding altogether, it would be difficult to argue it was precluded from taking the "less radical step" of imposing terms and conditions (under a new agreement).

The question of whether or not a voluntary organisation should receive funds is quintessentially a matter for the executive arm of government, in this case through the HSE, he said.

The issue of such funding is entrusted to a body which is expected to have a particular knowledge and expertise and the courts are ill-equipped to pass judgment on what are appropriate conditions for such funding, he said.

While the HSE had entered into a non-standard agreement, it was entitled to change its mind on future funding.  It was scarcely surprising at all that it (HSE) would want to put in place a standard agreement and this could not in itself be seen as unreasonable or irrational,  he said.

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