ANGRY: Caroline Forrest with her 30-year-old son Scott, who was disabled by a routine vaccination when he was a baby

HOW WE WERE BETRAYED BY GORDON BROWN
BY RACHEL ELLIS AND ANTHONY BEVINS http://www.lineone.net/express/00/05/30/news/n0100splash-d.html

Chancellor Gordon Brown last night stood accused of hypocrisy over the scandal of Britain's vaccine-damaged children.

The Daily Express can reveal that while Mr Brown was an Opposition MP he joined a campaign supporting fairer compensation for youngsters who have suffered terrible disabilities. But he is now blocking moves to introduce the scheme because the Treasury fears it would be too costly.

The mother of one of the children he promised to help said last night that she had been "betrayed". Caroline Forrest, whose son Scott was left severely brain-damaged by a reaction to routine vaccinations as a baby, said: "All these years I have believed Gordon Brown was supporting us and I was grateful. Now I have learned he is blocking any chance of better compensation.

"It is quite disgraceful that he should behave in this way and I am planning to write to him asking him to explain his behaviour."

Olivia Price, of the Vaccine Victims Support Network, said: "We feel as though Mr Brown has turned his back on us after promising he would do his utmost to get compensation for our children. It is scandalous. I say Mr Brown should put his money where his mouth is."

The Daily Express has learned that while in opposition Mr Brown urged the Tory government to replace the current compensation scheme which he believed was "grossly inadequate for a lifetime of severe disability".

He called for the "few tragic and unwitting casualties" of the Department of Health sponsored national vaccination programme to be given compensation "comparable to that given to industrially injured people, or that awarded by the courts to those similarly disabled".

Today, compensation awarded to people brain-damaged by medical blunders regularly runs into millions of pounds.

Yet the most that the families of vaccine-damaged children can hope to get from the official payment scheme is a one-off sum of 40,000. Most of the unfortunate casualties of the vaccination programme only ever received 10,000.

Hope of proper compensation was held out by a 1978 Royal Commission report, but a recommendation for court action to be allowed for vaccine damage has been blocked by Labour and Conservative governments ever since - for fear that the damages would be too costly for the Exchequer.

This month, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker was told by the Lord Chancellor's Department: "The Government has no plans to make changes to the liability rules that apply to compensation claims through the courts for these cases."

That means Mr Brown has rejected the call to foot the bill for proper compensation, and the Treasury is refusing to fund any significant and substantial increase in cash paid out under the 1979 Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme.

Under that scheme, put in place to blunt the impact of demands for proper compensation, families are entitled to a payment only if they can prove their son or daughter is 80 per cent or more brain-damaged or disabled.

The rest - four out of five people who apply - get nothing at all. Round-the-clock care for a severely disabled person costs in the region of 80,000 a year.

Other MPs who have given their support to these families include the Government's Solicitor General Ross Cranston, Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Labour MP Ian Stewart, and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Two junior ministers, Hugh Bayley at the social security department and Yvette Cooper at health, are currently carrying out a low-level review of the limited payment scheme. But Cabinet ministers Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Social Security, and Health Secretary Alan Milburn have agreed to meet representatives of a cross-party campaign group, probably before a Commons debate on the issue next week.

The ministerial review was launched in July 1997, but its results have been delayed by an approach made by Mr Bayley and Ms Cooper to drug companies for help in setting up a compensation fund. The drug companies rejected that plea.

Mr Bayley told the Daily Express this week: "I know the pressure on parents is enormous. Now that the pharmaceutical industry has made its position clear, I want to conclude the review as soon as possible."

Mr Brown pledged his support for proper compensation for vaccine-damaged children in 1986 after being contacted by Mrs Forrest, one of his Dunfermline East constituents.

Her son Scott was left severely brain-damaged by the diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccinations he received as a baby.

Today Scott is 30. He cannot sit up unaided, talk or feed himself and is doubly incontinent.

The family received just 10,000 from the Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme in 1980. When Mrs Forrest, 54, contacted Mr Brown asking for his support she wasn't sure what his reaction would be.

But she was pleasantly surprised when he sent a reply supporting her and signed an early day motion for proper compensation for vaccine- damaged children.

"I was very happy," said Mrs Forrest. "I thought he was backing us. Labour was in power when we accepted the original 10,000 payment in 1979. They said it was to be an interim payment until they could figure out a proper amount of compensation.

"In the meantime, Margaret Thatcher got into government and she said it wasn't interim, that was the compensation. Labour was siding with us at the time and we automatically thought that when they got in they would do something to rectify the situation. It is definitely very disappointing."

She added: "I feel that most politicians when they are not in power will say what they think people expect should be their views.

"But when they get into power they change. I feel dreadfully disappointed. It is like a betrayal. Many of the families who have been affected thought a Labour government would try to put things right. We have been very badly let down."

Mrs Price, of the Vaccine Victims Support Network, said: "Politicians think they can say anything while they are canvassing for votes in order to be elected.

"The point is that Gordon Brown has got constituents going back a long time and he should be looking after them.

"MPs seem to reach a position and then it doesn't matter about individuals - they get to be too big."

Allies of the Chancellor last night claimed he was "very sympathetic" to the plight of vaccine-damaged children and denied he was blocking progress in Whitehall. They said his signature on the 1986 early day motion should be taken as evidence to demonstrate his support. "Gordon has taken a long-standing personal interest in this subject and will respond to any proposals on it in that context," said one friend.

It is understood that the Department of Social Security is drawing up proposals for a package of new money totalling between 15million and 20million to help the parents of vaccine-damaged children.

But that would be many millions short of the amount they would be entitled to were they allowed to claim compensation through the courts.

These jabs have sentenced my son to life as a baby

SCOTT Forrest has been frozen in time since he had the diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccinations as a baby.

Although he is now 30 he cannot sit up unaided, he can't talk or feed himself and he is doubly incontinent. His mother Caroline first realised something was wrong with her perfectly healthy son after the first vaccination when he was four months old.

"He was delirious, screaming and very hot. I got the doctor out and he didn't even examine him. He said there was a flu epidemic around and that's what it was," said Caroline.

"After the second vaccination, when he must have been 10 months old, that is when I really noticed the difference.

"His arms and the top half of his body just jack-knifed. He wouldn't stop screaming and then later the seizures started to develop."

A tribunal for the Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme awarded Scott 10,000 in 1979.

Mrs Forrest, 54, from Fife, who has three other children, added: "Scott has stayed at the same stage he was at as a baby before he had the vaccination. It is like time has stood still for him."

Her husband Sam, 63, was forced to give up work to help care for Scott many years ago and has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. The family now rely on benefits to pay for Scott's care.

"When you have such a severely, profoundly handicapped son, you can't give your full attention to the other children," she said. "Financially it is hard and we are living on income support. It is not what we wanted to ever do and it would be lovely to get everything Scott needs."

Mrs Forrest has recently found out that the hospital that Scott attended for 29 years for day and respite care, also in Gordon Brown's constituency, is closing down. "I was only offered one other day care centre which I felt wasn't suitable for Scott. If he had been able to walk it would have been ideal but as it is I have him at home now all the time."
Express Newspapers, 2000