Government to apologise for thalidomide scandal

Fifty years after thalidomide was released on to the market, leaving its horrific legacy of birth defects, the Government is to apologise for the first time for its role in the world's worst drugs disaster.

The Department of Health said yesterday that a "statement of regret" would be made in Parliament in the new year – possibly by Gordon Brown – backed by £20m over three years to meet the growing needs of survivors.

There are 466 people with varying levels of disability whose mothers took the drug between 1958 and 1961. Currently, they receive an average of £18,000 a year from the Thalidomide Trust, which was established to adminster compensation paid by Distillers, the maker of thalidomide, and its successor companies. As the survivors have aged – most are now in their 40s or 50s – their needs have grown.

In 1955, a Government agency called the Cohen committee effectively approved thalidomide as a drug for treating morning sickness.

Despite this, the Government has never previously acknowledged responsibility for its role in the tragedy nor offered financial compensation.

If the pilot scheme is a success, it is likely it will be reviewed after three years for the lifetime of those affected.