HC Deb 23 July 1962 vol 663 cc944-6
32. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that there is further evidence from the Continent of children being born with congenital deformities to mothers who have taken the sedative thalidomide and that during 1960 and 1961 500 infants were born in this country with malformations which may be attributable to this drug; and whether he will now make arrangements for clinical studies of other sedatives in order to ascertain whether any connection exists between abnormal births and the use of such sedatives.

Mr. Powell

I am aware of this evidence. I am informed that research has not suggested any connection of abnormal births with other sedatives.

Mr. Edelman

Is not the tragedy of the thalidomide babies a great national disaster, greater in its ramifications than any single train accident in the history of this country, for example? In these circumstances, is it not premature to draw a veil over the whole matter while there are many aspects of it which have not been cleared up? For example, why during 1960 and 1961, when there was a sharp increase in the number of abnormal births not only on the Continent but in this country also, was no correlation observed or investigated between the increase in the number of abnormal births and the increased use of sedatives, particularly thalidomide? In these circumstances, does not the matter call for a committee of investigation to go into the whole matter to find out why during the whole of this period no one apparently was investigating the increased incidence of abnormal births in this country? Did the Minister himself take any action? If not, will he do something about it?

Mr. Powell

I am not anxious to draw a veil over any aspect of this matter, although I shall not vie with the hon. Member in expressions about the feelings which will be in the minds of all of us in contemplating it. I can only answer the Questions put to me. I was asked if I would arrange for clinical studies to see whether other sedatives may be involved. I have told the hon. Member that studies do not indicate that other sedatives are involved.

Mr. K. Robinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very great public concern about what he is prepared to do in the cases of the deformed children who have already been born? Will he look into this associated matter about the provision of hospital schools for limbless babies, of which I understand there are only two with a very limited number of beds? Since they will be quite incapable of meeting the new demand, will the Minister look into the possibility of extending the provision?

Mr. Powell

My advice is that the resources of the Health Service should be fully adequate for meeting all the health service needs—all those within the responsibility of my Department—which may be involved in the case of these limbless babies.

Sir H. Linstead

While I am quite certain that we have not found the right answer to the question of testing new drugs, has my right hon. Friend toad any medical advice indicating that it would have been possible to have discovered the effects that thalidomide has bad before these tragedies had taken place?

Mr. Powell

It is always impossible to answer a "might have been" with complete certainty, but I think it right to say that there is no machinery which could guarantee to detect in advance all the long-term side effects of a drug.

Mr. Snow

Are these deformities notifiable by hospital services to local health authorities? In the case of the American experience, is it not a fact that the one physician who put a warning light up about this drug has been recommended for a decoration? Is this not proof that there is some prima facie case of danger to people who take this drug?

Mr. Powell

I have no information on the second point. If the hon. Member will put down a Question on the first point, I shall answer it.