Page last updated at 06:46 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Drug's victims want more support

Julie-Jean George
Julie-Jean George says she is finding it more difficult to cope

Victims of one of the UK's worst medical disasters are calling for the UK government to admit responsibility and pay them more compensation.

More than 30 people in Wales are living with the effects of the Thalidomide drug, 50 years after its introduction caused terrible birth defects.

The German-made sedative was prescribed to pregnant women for morning sickness.

The Department of Health said the government has already paid millions into a trust to provide compensation.

Survivors told BBC Wales' Week In Week Out of terrible pain and their bodies wearing out faster than other people's.

The drug led to the births of 10,000 deformed babies around the world.

Around half died within months and the rest have grown up with often severe disabilities.

I would say I need at least an extra £15,000 a year - things are a real struggle for me financially
Julie-Jean George

The 450 survivors get an average annual income of £18,000 from the Thalidomide Trust.

The trust was set up to distribute compensation paid by Distillers - now known as Diageo following a take-over - which originally marketed the drug from 1957 to 1961.

A new campaign claims survivors need twice that amount because of increasing need and mounting expenses.

Julie-Jean George, 47, from Pencoed, near Bridgend, was left with badly deformed arms and hands, and told BBC Wales current affairs programme Week In Week Out that she found it more difficult to cope as she got older.

She said: "Our bodies are wearing out faster than other people. I'm in terrible pain sometimes because I have had to over-rely on the parts of the body I do have.

"When we were 30, experts told us we already had the bodies of 70-year-olds so some of us are really suffering now."

She said the cost of adapting houses and cars was "very high".

"I would say I need at least an extra £15,000 a year. Things are a real struggle for me financially," she said.

Campaigners, who include Lord Ashley of Stoke, say the UK government should set up another compensation scheme and admit responsibility because it allowed Thalidomide to be prescribed on the NHS from 1957.

Controversial past

But ministers at the Department of Health in London said they were not convinced.

They said the government has already paid millions into the trust and the NHS provided a good service for people affected by the drug.

Thalidomide is also making a comeback despite its tragic and controversial past.

Penn Pharmaceuticals, based near Tredegar, is now making it for use in the NHS.

Doctors at Singleton hospital in Swansea have been using it to treat patients with a certain type of blood cancer.

Some of the victims of the drug are opposed to its return and said if it had to be used, profits should go to the victims of the original tragedy.

In Wales, doctors said strict controls were in place to ensure its safety.

Week In Week Out, Tuesday 17th November 2009, 2235 GMT, BBC One Wales

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