Wednesday, December 23, 2009

British government to pay £20 million to those disabled by thalidomide

From The Telegraph in the UK:

Thalidomide victims will be given millions of pounds in compensation and a Government apology for their suffering, campaigners have said.

Under a deal to be announced soon, the Department of Health will pay a grant of £20 million over three years to the Thalidomide Trust, which dispenses aid to people disabled by the drug.

The deal follows a campaign backed by the Sunday Times to secure financial support for the UK's 463 surviving "thalidomiders", many of whom are unable to work and require adapted homes and cars.

Equitable Life victims 'should get billions in compensation'Pregnant women were prescribed thalidomide in the 1950s and 1960s to treat morning sickness or insomnia, but it was withdrawn from sale in 1961 after babies were born with limb deformities and other damage.

The drug's UK manufacturer, Distillers Biochemicals, paid around £28 million compensation in the 1970s following a legal battle by the families of those affected.

Under the new settlement, the grant will be reviewed after three years but it is expected to be continued for the lifetimes of those damaged by the drug.

It is also hoped a further £5 million could be provided if the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland contribute, according to campaigners.

Thalidomide campaigner Guy Tweedy, 47, from Harrogate, said health minister Mike O'Brien had agreed to the deal following negotiations.

He said: "This is a significant day in the long-running battle to get a fair and just settlement for the victims of this wicked drug.

"Our campaign, which was fought with dignity and determination, has always been about justice and not entitlement.

"For more than 50 years we have had to live with the consequences of our mothers taking this 'wonder drug'.

"Little did they know the damage it would do to the unborn child in the womb.

"We estimate at least 1,000 babies were born with deformities brought about directly by this drug, and more than half of them died within their first year.

"An unknown number also died in the womb."

Over the last seven years, Mr Tweedy, with fellow thalidomider Nick Dobrik, has met 150 MPs, including Mr O'Brien and Alan Johnson, the former health secretary.

The drug was developed in the mid 1950s in Germany and in 1958 it was described by the British government's Cohen Committee as a "great drug with proven value".

Mr Tweedy said the money and apology would make a "big difference" to surviving thalidomiders and parents who cared for the most seriously disabled.

"This ruling will now help ease the lives of many who, for more than half a century, have struggled daily with the terrible deformities they suffered as a direct result of thalidomide," he said.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We will make an announcement in due course."