Mike O’Brien (Minister of State, Department of Health):
Mr Speaker, between 1958 and 1961, the drug thalidomide was used by expectant mothers to control symptoms of morning sickness. Tragically, this led to many babies being born with often-severe physical disabilities.
There are currently 466 Thalidomiders, as they refer to themselves, who are beneficiaries of the Thalidomide Trust. The Government wishes to express its deep sympathy for the injury and suffering endured by all those affected and I will say something more about that in a moment.
Mr Speaker, I am pleased to report to the House that the government will now fund a £20m, three-year pilot scheme to meet health needs of Thalidomide survivors in a more personalised way. Funding for this has been found from existing Departmental central contingency budgets.
The scheme will be operated by the Thalidomide Trust. It will use its considerable expertise and knowledge of its members needs to distribute money to survivors. They, in turn, will invest the money in adaptions and other preventative measures that are likely to reduce long-term demands on the NHS.
In recent months I have met the National Advisory Council to the Thalidomide Trust on a number of occasions. They have impressed upon me their concerns about the continuing and increasing health needs of Thalidomiders as they approach older age. This additional funding will help to meet their complex and highly specialised needs, and to reduce further degeneration in their health.
There will be clear principles for the use of the money. It will be used to explore how the health needs of Thalidomide survivors can be best met in the longer term. It will also be used to look at the effectiveness of the scheme and how this approach, of working through an expert national body, might be applied to other small groups of geographically dispersed patients with special needs.
The evaluation will be focused on Thalidomide survivors in England. However, as the Thalidomide Trust has discretion in how it uses its funding, we will expect that survivors living outside England will also benefit.
It is important to acknowledge that this announcement builds on work done with the thalidomiders in past decades by Lord Morris of Manchester and by Lord Ashley of Stoke.
Lord Morris, appointed as the first Minister for Disabled People in 1974, made Distillers, the then owners of the Thalidomide drug, establish a trust fund for effected children. Lord Ashley has tirelessly campaigned for greater recognition of the effects and needs of Thalidomiders, which has also led to improvements in drug safety. The work of Harold Evans and the Sunday Times should also be acknowledged, as should the campaigning by a number of current members of this House.
Mr Speaker, whilst the Government is taking positive steps to help Thalidomide survivors, the contribution of the Thalidomide Trust in supporting survivors and their families cannot be overstated.
I would like to take this opportunity also to pay tribute to the work of the Trust, its officers and, in particular, to the members of the National Advisory Council who have worked tirelessly to champion the cause of Thalidomiders.
But importantly Mr Speaker, let me make the following statement on behalf of the Government. I know that a lot of Thalidomiders have waited a long time for this. It has been agreed with the National Advisory Council. The Government wishes to express its sincere regret and deep sympathy for the injury and suffering endured by all those affected when expectant mothers took the drug thalidomide between 1958 and 1961.
We acknowledge both the physical hardship and the emotional difficulties that have faced both the children affected and their families as a result of this drug, and the challenges that many continue to endure, often on a daily basis.
In the light of what happened, a complete review of the machinery for marketing, testing and regulating drugs was initiated, including the enactment of the Medicines Act 1968 which introduced further testing for medicines prior to licensing to ensure that they meet acceptable standards of safety and efficacy.
Notes to editors
For more information please see the press release as of 23 Dec 2009:
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