Thalidomide campaigners hopeful on government funding


Disabled people born with impairments caused by the drug thalidomide say they are “cautiously optimistic” that the government will provide them with new financial support.

They have been campaigning since last year for government funding for the 463 people in the UK who were born with impairments caused by their mothers taking the drug while pregnant in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The campaign has been run by the national advisory council (NAC), an elected committee representing all those born with thalidomide impairments and supported by the Thalidomide Trust.

The trust administers payments from the compensation paid by Distillers, the company that marketed thalidomide in the UK (and now a non-trading subsidiary of Diageo PLC).

But many of those born with thalidomide impairments – all now aged between 47 and 50 – are finding it increasingly difficult to survive on the compensation they receive.

Already having to cope with the cost of equipment such as adapted vehicles and electric wheelchairs, many also face deteriorating health caused by an accelerated wear of joints and limbs, leading to pain and further impairments.

A parliamentary early day motion (EDM) calling for a government financial assistance package for those with thalidomide impairments has secured the signatures of 275 MPs, far above the average level of support for an EDM.

NAC member Nick Dobrik said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the progress of talks with the government over funding, and said negotiations over the last couple of months had been “intense”.

He said: “We are looking for an annual payment to the trust in order to improve the quality of life of thalidomiders, so they can maintain their independence.”

Guy Tweedy, deputy chair of the NAC, said: “Our bodies weren’t designed for what we are using them for.”

He added: “Hopefully we will get somewhere. The government have been very amenable.

“This is about justice and not entitlement, helping thalidomiders with their unmet needs.

“This would make a difference. There are a lot of people really struggling out there.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Everyone has the greatest sympathy for individuals and families affected by thalidomide and we take their concerns very seriously.

“Mike O’Brien, minister of state for health, is holding continuing meetings with representatives of the trust to further discuss their concerns.

“Those affected by thalidomide continue to get compensated through a private settlement with Diageo PLC, which is administered by the Thalidomide Trust. Diageo continues to make annual payments to the trust.”

16 December 2009

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