THALIDOMIDE survivors in Scotland are to benefit from a £14.2 million fund over the next decade to help pay for their healthcare and living costs, the Scottish Government has announced.
There are currently 58 known survivors of the drug in Scotland, who will each receive a share of the fund on a needs basis as assessed by the Thalidomide Trust.
The money will help pay for increasing health needs, home adaptations and specialist equipment, enabling the survivors, many of whom are now in their 50s, to continue living as independently as possible.
Thalidomide was prescribed to expectant mothers between 1958 and 1961 to relieve morning sickness and insomnia, but was withdrawn from sale after thousands of babies were born with limb deformities.
Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said: “This £14.2m is part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to assisting the ageing thalidomide generation who are facing rising care bills.
“We know that the survivors of thalidomide have faced decades of coping with the disabilities caused by the drug.
“This means that as they age, they are more likely to need assistance to continue to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible, and this funding will help them to do that.”
The Thalidomide Trust, which was set up in 1973 to provide support and advice to survivors, previously benefited from a Scottish Government grant of £3.4m, to be spread over a three-year period, in 2009.
Dr Martin Johnson, director at the Thalidomide Trust, said: “This new grant is crucial in helping thalidomide survivors cope with the challenges they face.
“Each survivor is individual, and each knows best the type of help they need. The money will be assigned to them to spend at their own discretion.”
One of Scotland’s thalidomide survivors, Liz Buckle, who lives on the island of Lismore, near Oban, said: “The cost of helping someone like myself with two limbs damaged is over £40,000 per year, but the government’s funding covers less than half of that. Money is needed to help the body adapt to wear and tear. I’m currently losing function in my hands, as well as my stamina.
“We are hoping to mobilise plans next year to hold the creators of the thalidomide drug to account, with a view to eventually having the other half of the help we need paid by them.”
Ms Buckle was born in London but moved to Scotland in her early 20s to work in conservation around Argyll, a job which she was “absolutely gutted” to give up six years ago due to deteriorating health.
She said: “When I was younger I didn’t think of it as a challenge. I didn’t think of myself as a dis-abled person, although of course I was. I just did everything: I had a flow to life, a rhythm. Everything was easy. I lived an adapted, amended life, although I didn’t realise the pressure that was putting on my body.”
Survivors of thalidomide were first compensated in 1968 through a private settlement which was initially agreed with the drug’s UK manufacturers, Distillers Biochemicals. At the time, the company, which produced and marketed the drug in Britain, had stated that the agreement was conditional on “all allegations of negligence being withdrawn”.
The company paid out a total of £28m to those affected.