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Welsh survivors of thalidomide welcome pounds 20m; Historic apology and cash deal will yield extra payments for disabled.

Byline: Darren Devine

WELSH victims of one of the biggest ever medical scandals to engulf the drugs industry said last night a pounds 20m government payout and an apology may help them recover the dignity so far denied them.

The victims of 1950s "wonder drug" thalidomide, marketed as a cure for morning sickness in pregnant women and a side effectsfree sedative, suffered extreme deformities.

The drug was given to thousands of women in Britain and millions worldwide before the horrendous side effects became clear.

The Department of Health will now pay a grant of pounds 20m over three years to the Thalidomide Trust, which dispenses aid to those disabled by the drug.

The deal follows a campaign to secure financial support for the UK's 463 surviving victims by the Trust.

The Government also apologised on behalf of previous administrations for the distress caused by the drug.

Many of the scandal's victims are unable to work and require specially adapted homes and cars.

Sue Kent, from Swansea, who has arms that are eight inches long with three fingers on her left hand and four on her right, said the money could have a dramatic impact on sufferers' lives.

The 47-year-old said: "The main thing is that it helps people keep their independence.

"The more equipment you have the more able you are to manage on your own.

"It helps us to keep our bodies functioning and get the right healthcare to keep our bodies going."

Mrs Kent, who works as a masseuse using her feet, said the payout works out at around pounds 10,000 to pounds 12,000 a year and should help relieve the poverty experienced by many sufferers.

She added: "I need an adapted car, kitchen and bathroom and I have to have bits of equipment that are very expensive to buy to be able to dress myself.

"A dressing stick to do up the zips of my clothes costs up to pounds 200. This extra money will help fund carers, helpers and new equipment."

Mrs Kent, who is married to Stephen, 47, an accountant, said many thalidomide victims endure psychological problems in addition to physical disabilities. The mother of two children, James, 20, and Georgina, 18, added: "Many of our members have had very, very tough times psychologically.

"I've had the odd moment of depression and I found it very hard having children and not being able to manage with them, having to have someone else bath them, and so on."

Pregnant women were prescribed thalidomide in the 1950s, but it was withdrawn from sale in 1961 after babies were born with limb deformities.

The drug's UK manufacturer, Distillers Biochemicals, paid around pounds 28m in compensation in the 1970s following a legal battle with the families of those affected.

The money paid to the victims by the drugs company can be worth up to pounds 18,000 a year, depending on the severity of their disability.

The new government settlement will be reviewed after three years, but it is expected to be continued for the lifetimes of those affected by the drug.

Campaigners estimate at least 1,000 babies were born with deformities brought about directly by thalidomide, and more than half of them died within their first year. An unknown number also died in the womb.

Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds, 49, who was born with deformed legs and arms, said: "All that remains is for there to be a permanent memorial to recognise the contribution thalidomide-impaired people and their families have made to many disability-related issues over the years." Mrs Moriarty-Simmonds, from Cardiff, urged people to support a petition on the Government's website to bring a memorial a step closer.


DIGNITY AT STAKE: Thalidomide survivor Sue Kent values independence Picture: Patrick Olner
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 22, 2009
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