The Government has announced that victims of thalidomide, a drug that was prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s and ‘60s, will share a £20 million compensation package to assist with their health needs as they get older.
Thalidomide was originally prescribed to counter conditions such as morning sickness and insomnia. However, the drug was withdrawn from the market in 1961 after babies of mothers who had taken it were born with limb deformities and other problems. Recent research by scientists at the University of Aberdeen discovered that a component of the drug prevents the growth of new blood vessels in the embryo and this was what caused the birth defects.
There are 466 survivors of the thalidomide tragedy in the UK, each of whom receives on average £18,000 a year from the Thalidomide Trust. The Trust was set up by the original makers of the drug, Distillers Biochemicals, after legal battles in the 1970s.
In announcing the funding, Health Minister Mike O’Brien told Parliament that the Government expressed its ‘sincere regret and deep sympathy for the injury and suffering endured by all those affected’. In 1958, a government committee had granted the drug exemption from purchase tax on the basis that it was a ‘proven remedy’.
The £20 million support package, which has been found from existing health budgets, will be administered by the Thalidomide Trust.
Guy Tweedy, 47, a thalidomide campaigner from Harrogate, described it as ‘a significant day in the long-running battle to get a fair and just settlement for the victims of this wicked drug’.