Survivors of the drug thalidomide have hailed a new £20 million package of support, and the promise of a long-awaited government apology.
The prime minister is expected to deliver a “statement of regret” in the Commons early in the new year.
Guy Tweedy, a leading campaigner, said the announcement was “wonderful news”.
Tweedy, deputy chair of the Thalidomide Trust’s national advisory council (NAC), an elected committee representing those with impairments caused by thalidomide, said an apology would be just as important as the new funding.
He said: “It is just as important to the parents as it is to the thalidomiders themselves.
“For a lot of people it has been a trauma for 50 years. They have battled against social services, the drug companies and the government.
“This drug could have been avoided. It was avoided in America. It was a [UK] government agency that said it was a great drug and should be used.
“This will be a recognition that mistakes were made and they recognise it and they will say sorry. It will make a difference to a lot of people.”
Tweedy is one of about 460 people in the UK born with impairments caused by their mothers taking thalidomide while pregnant in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
He said he regretted that 18 others who have died since he began campaigning in 2002 would not hear the apology.
The funding will provide more personalised support for those with thalidomide impairments, and will be paid over three years from April 2010.
Tweedy said it would fund their “unmet needs”, such as paying for adaptations to homes and buying adapted cars and electric wheelchairs.
Many survivors have found it increasingly difficult to survive on the compensation they receive from the company that marketed the drug in the UK, because of equipment costs and deteriorating health.
The announcement followed lengthy discussions between the Department of Health (DH), the Thalidomide Trust – which administers the compensation – and the NAC.
The DH will hand the funding to the trust, which will distribute money to thalidomide survivors, all now aged between 47 and 50, to give them “more control over their long-term health needs”.
The DH said the scheme would be evaluated to “explore how the health needs of thalidomiders can be best met in the longer term” and it would examine how this approach of working through an expert national body might be used with other small groups of people with “specialised needs”.
29 December 2009