Government’s £80m for victims of thalidomide – but still no apology

Britain’s lax regulations contributed to scandal of babies born disfigured because of drug

Survivors in England of the world’s worst drug disaster, which led to the birth of 10,000 grossly disfigured children worldwide, are to receive £80m in compensation from the Government to help with their increasing needs.

The cash, to be paid over 10 years, will be divided between 325 of the victims of thalidomide, a drug given to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s. Thalidomide survivors in Scotland will share £14m; those in Wales and Northern Ireland await similar announcements.

Thalidomide was prescribed between 1958 and 1961 as a drug for morning sickness, after a government agency called the Cohen Committee had approved it. But it had a devastating effect on the foetus, and children were born with missing or deformed arms and legs.

The World Health Organisation had warned that the UK’s inadequate drug regulation was courting disaster. In the US, which had tighter controls, thalidomide was not used. The Government has never apologised for its role in the disaster but three years ago it made an initial £20m payment to the victims and, for the first time, expressed its “sincere regret and deep sympathy” for the suffering caused.

Yesterday’s announcement provides security for the remaining “thalidomiders” by guaranteeing long-term financial support for their growing health needs and amounts to an acknowledgement that the Government shares the blame for the catastrophe.

Norman Lamb, Care Services minister, said his focus was on offering “practical help”. An evaluation of the £20m pilot scheme had shown that thalidomide victims needed bespoke adaptations to their homes and cars which were more expensive because of the rarity of their injuries.

“I think society has a responsibility to these people. One of the big problems is that many thalidomiders have made the most remarkable use of their bodies to compensate for having missing or shortened limbs. But that has an impact in terms of wear and tear on their bodies and a deterioration of their condition.”

The compensation from the Government comes on top of payments from Diageo, successor to Distillers, the company that distributed thalidomide in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Diageo has paid £160m over the last six years to fund the future needs of the thalidomiders.

Grünenthal, the German manufacturer of the drug, set up a €50m (£41m) fund for 3,000 thalidomide victims on the Continent, mostly in Germany, and unveiled a memorial last September when, for the first time, it expressed its “sincere regrets” and “deep sympathy” for those affected. But it has never compensated the British victims.

The catastrophe led to a fundamental reform of the way the international pharmaceutical industry is regulated and ushered in today’s system of testing and licensing. When thalidomide became available in Britain in 1958 it had not been rigorously tested and it took three years for its effects to become clear. Today, there are 470 British survivors, now in their 50s, who receive payments ranging from £5,000 to £50,000 a year depending on the severity of their disfigurement. In addition, they can qualify for annual health grants up to £35,000.

Martin Johnson, director of the Thalidomide Trust, which administers payments to the survivors, said those affected were expected to have a normal lifespan but were ageing faster than their contemporaries, and already had the fitness levels of 80-year-olds. “We are repeatedly exposed at the Trust to examples of day-to-day heroism,” he said. “They have been conditioned to behave that way since childhood… This [money] will help slow down their deterioration.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss