Government expresses ‘regret and sympathy’ for thalidomide damage


A thalidomide survivor has spoken of his mixed emotions as he watched from the House of Commons public gallery while a government minister apologised for the damage caused by the drug half a century ago.

Guy Tweedy is one of hundreds of disabled people in the UK who have impairments caused by the drug being taken by their mothers during pregnancy between 1958 and 1961.

But it has taken the government 50 years to express its “sincere regret and deep sympathy” for the “injury and suffering” caused by thalidomide.

The statement was made by health minister Mike O’Brien, and followed a £20 million package of support announced in December.

Tweedy said: “The apology and the way it was said was absolutely wonderful.

“Mike O’Brien had the decency to step up to the plate and do the right thing.

“Today is a very good day and it is also a very sad day. I felt glad that I was able to be there, and sad for the people who couldn’t be there. It was a very moving moment.”

He and fellow “thalidomiders” receive support from the Thalidomide Trust, which administers compensation paid by the firm that marketed the drug in the UK.

Tweedy is deputy chair of the trust’s national advisory council (NAC), an elected committee representing thalidomiders, which agreed the statement.

The statement said: “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.”

The £20 million will fund a three-year pilot scheme aimed at meeting the increasing health needs of thalidomiders in a more personalised way as they age.

The trust will distribute the funds to the 466 thalidomiders it supports, to use for adaptations to homes and cars and specialised wheelchairs, and “meet their complex and highly specialised needs, and to reduce further degeneration in their health”.

O’Brien also paid tribute to those who campaigned on behalf of thalidomiders, including the NAC, the disabled Labour peer Lord [Jack] Ashley and the Sunday Times.

14 January 2010

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