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Irish government deliberately didn't issue warning about Thalidomide

A new investigation has found the Irish government issued an ineffective recall of the drug once the devastating side effects became apparent.

Phillipa Bradbourne, a Thalidomide baby born without arms, at a party in London i n1963, two years after the drug was withdrawn fro the market.
Phillipa Bradbourne, a Thalidomide baby born without arms, at a party in London i n1963, two years after the drug was withdrawn fro the market.
Image: Pa Archive

A NEW INVESTIGATION has found that the Irish government deliberately didn’t issue a public warning about the dangers of Thalidomide because it believed such a move would be ‘undesirable’.

Documents revealed by RTE’s Prime Time tonight show that the Irish government instead issued an ineffective recall of the drug after it had already been fully withdrawn for sale in the UK and Germany over its devastating side effects.

The programme also revealed that former Attorney General John Rogers has agreed to act as mediator in an action by survivors against the Irish State.

Thalidomide was sold to pregnant women as a cure for morning sickness in the 1950s and early 1960s but was found to cause severe physical disabilities in infants born to mothers who had taken the drug. The manufacturers of the drug apologised to victims in September 2012, but said that there was no way that the consequences could have been detected before the drug was put on the market.

Irish survivors say they believe that up to nine people were subjected to the drug because the Irish government did not fully withdraw it from the market in November 1961.

RTE’s Prime Time found a briefing note given to the then-Tánaiste Brendan Corish in February 1974 about how the Thalidomide issue had unfolded 12 years previously and how the Government had responded.

The document shows that the Government decided not to make a public announcement about the dangers of the drug but instead left it up to chemists and medical officers to withdraw it from shelves.

The note says that Thalidomide, which was first sold in Ireland in 1959, came under suspicion in 1961. When UK and German manufacturers suspended distribution in winter 1961, Irish distributors followed suit, asking chemists, wholesalers and doctors to return any stock of the drug they had.

A Department of Health conference in June 1962 noted that there as “no definite evidence in this country of a connection between Thalidomide and the occurrence of defects in infants”. Nonetheless, it accepted that “the drug was so suspect that precautions were necessary”.

Six months after the drug was supposed to have been withdrawn, the Department said that any supplies which had already reached domestic stocks presented a special problem “which could be tackled only by public announcements”.

The note states: “This step was regarded as undesirable and it was thought that, even if it were taken, it would prove largely ineffective”.

Instead, a circular was issued to Chief Medical Officers asking them to look after returning unused stocks.

Thalidomide survivors’ groups say the ineffective recall meant some women continued to take the drug.

A total of 20 of the 32 Irish Thalidomide survivors are currently engaged in legal action against the State, with mediation discussions due to get underway in the new year.

Read: Thalidomide survivors call for proper compensation >

Read: Thalidomide makers issue first ever apology to victims >

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