£80m pledge to aid ageing Thalidomide survivors

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A body representing Thalidomide survivors is to receive £80m of Government funding over 10 years, a senior health minister has revealed.

The Thalidomide Trust will have its three-year pilot grant extended for a decade when it ends in March, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb announced.

The money must be spent on health-related purchases which includes medical care but also projects such as promoting social inclusion, adapting homes and vehicles, and providing hearing aids.

Between 1958 and 1961 the drug Thalidomide was used by expectant mothers to control symptoms of morning sickness but it led to babies being born physically disabled.

Mr Lamb said: “It struck me that there was a powerful case to provide long-time stability and funding. Society has a responsibility to this group of people.”

The money would give “the maximum power and control to the individual to meet their needs”, Mr Lamb said.

“The Thalidomide Trust knows this condition better than anyone. They are the experts who know how to deploy this grant better than anyone else.”

The funding is for Thalidomide survivors in England only, with devolved administrations to consider how to fund a grant in their own area. There are 325 Thalidomide survivors in England who are beneficiaries of the trust, while 431 people are represented UK-wide.

It comes after sustained campaigning and lobbying by the trust, which involved briefing MPs and resulted in a Westminster debate in September.

The grant recognises the increasing health needs of Thalidomide survivors as they approach their old age.

The trust said the health of 50-year-old members is comparable with that of 80-year-olds.

The grant was heralded by campaigners as a significant moment in the 50-year fight to get justice for Thalidomide survivors.

Trust director Martin Johnson said the funding will have a huge impact on the lives of those affected by drug.

“We are repeatedly exposed to their day-to-day heroism ... heroism does get tiring and we have got a lot of tired heroes. This will help,” said Dr Johnson.

Mikey Argy, a Thalidomide sufferer and campaigner for the trust, said: “This money will certainly have a big effect to the lives of Thalidomides. It has already started to have an impact on quality of life.”

The trust pledges to focus its campaigning on the Grunenthal Group, the German company that created the drug in 1953. Earlier this year chief executive Harald Stock said the firm failed to reach out to the victims and their mothers over the past 50 years.

The long-awaited apology was criticised by many Thalidomide sufferers as too little, too late.

Mrs Argy said the statement failed to placate those affected: “It was not an apology. It did not even ring true because it was not an apology,” she added.