Women get right to sue on pill

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CLAIMS that certain brands of contraceptive pill can kill or cause serious illness are to be tested in the High Court after the award of legal aid for a group action involving 170 women.

The move follows the release of figures showing that doctors have reported suspicions that 50 deaths in the UK may have been linked to pill use over the past four years.

Manufacturers of the brands of pill involved insist that their products are safe and say they will defend the court case vigorously.

The group action involves the families of 30 women whose deaths have been linked to the pill, as well as many others who blame it for giving them blood clots. Compensation is being claimed on the grounds that the companies were negligent in not foreseeing and preventing the problems.

One of the companies, Wyeth of Maidenhead, Berkshire, makers of Minulet and Tri-Minulet, yesterday confirmed that it was aware that legal aid had been granted. A spokesman added: "Wyeth intends to defend these proceedings vigorously. The Government's expert medical advisers are satisfied that the products meet the statutory requirements of quality, safety and efficacy."

The other companies involved are Schering Health Care, which makes Femodene, and Organon Laboratories, which produces Mercilon and Marvelon.

The Department of Health confirmed that in four years GPs had reported 50 cases to the Medicines Control Agency in which they suspected the pill had played a role in the death of a young woman.

Under the "yellow card" system, GPs alert the MCA whenever they come across possible adverse side-effects of a licensed drug.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Just because a yellow card has been logged, that doesn't mean that the pill was the cause of the deaths. There may have been no link whatsoever, but the doctor suspected one."

But Dr John Guly, a former GP who has campaigned about the dangers of the pill, said: "No girl is going to get a deep-vein thrombosis in her leg leading to a large pulmonary embolism which kills her for no reason at all. The figure of 50 deaths does not surprise me at all, and may even be too low. We have known for years that there is a certain mortality with the pill. This shows that the pill is not the sort of thing that can be dished out willy-nilly to everybody."