A woman from Northern Ireland who went on hunger strike to demand a Government apology for the thalidomide scandal has said she is ecstatic that £1.1 million in compensation is to be offered to survivors in the province.
Kim Morton was speaking after the Department of Health issued an official apology to Northern Ireland’s 18 thalidomide survivors whose mothers were prescribed the drug for morning sickness without realising its devastating effects on their unborn children.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey’s announcement follows a similar statement last month from Mike O’Brien, Minister of State for Health Services in England.
Mr McGimpsey said: “I fully support the principle of meeting the health needs for any patient who has suffered ill-health through using medicines which, unknown to them, carried unacceptable safety risks.
“I can therefore confirm that £1.1m required to meet the health needs of sufferers born in Northern Ireland will be made available to the Thalidomide Trust. My officials will undertake discussions with the Trust to agree how a personalised way of meeting these needs can be best achieved. I am sincerely sorry for the injury and suffering endured by those affected when expectant mothers took the thalidomide drug between 1958 and 1961.”
Ms Morton said the compensation has been a long time coming for her and her family.
“Fifty years is a very long wait but I am ecstatic today,” she said.
“That apology is everything to me and my parents, especially.
“I am one of the lucky ones whose parents are still alive to see this day.
“I have been on the phone to my mum all day crying — she thought she would never hear it.”
Ms Morton, a former mayor of Castlereagh Borough Council, said the money will go some way to helping the thalidomide survivors cope with daily struggles as a result of life with severe disabilities.
“A simple van conversion for a survivor could cost maybe £46,000, but now this money can come out of the compensation fund.”
The mother-of-three said she commended the actions and attitudes of ministers at Stormont.
“It has been a very long wait but to hear Michael McGimpsey say sorry makes me proud to be from Northern Ireland.
“Governments in Wales and Scotland have not come forward with an announcement like this yet, but I never thought the Northern Ireland government would let us down. They have faced up to their responsibilities and that means so much to me.”
Nick Dobrik, of the Thalidomide Trust’s National Advisory Council, said: “On behalf of the Thalidomide Trust National Advisory Council, I welcome this response from the Northern Ireland Government. These additional funds will help improve the quality of life of thalidomiders and enable them to maintain their independence.”
Thalidomide, first developed in Germany, was prescribed to pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s to help with morning sickness.
It was taken off the market in 1961 after links were established between its use and birth defects in newborn babies, but the direct cause was not discovered by scientists until early last year.
Only half of the 10,000 babies born throughout the world with thalidomide disabilities — including missing or deformed limbs, defects to the eyes, heart, ears, genitals, kidneys and digestive tract — survived.