HC Deb 18 February 1963 vol 672 cc27-8
39. Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Health what is the total number of babies now known to have been born in England and Wales with deformities attributable to the use of thalidomide during the pregnancy of their mothers; how many of these have been born since the end of August, 1962; what steps were taken to warn the mothers individually of the dangers involved in the use of this drug and to recover supplies of it from their homes; what progress is being made in the establishment of clinics for the training of the babies in the use of artificial limbs and other physical aids; and what assistance is provided to enable mothers living at some distance from such clinics to take their babies to them regularly.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Enoch Powell)

Maximum 349, of whom 267 surviving; seven, of whom six surviving; I am sending the hon. Member details of the steps; at all limb-fitting centres, and special arm training at six centres and three special units; ambulance services are available where necessary.

Mr. Driberg

Does that figure of seven born since the end of August indicate, as has been stated, that these mothers must have continued to take the drug after its dangers were known and its use generally had been stopped? If so, why were they not warned individually?

Mr. Powell

These must be cases where the drug was taken—if that was the cause, which is not certain—these are cases where the drug may have been taken—that is why I used the word "maximum" in my answer—and where, therefore, the necessary knowledge had not come to the attention of the person concerned.

Mrs. Braddock

Will the right hon. Gentleman make available a list of places where the service is available? Is he aware that in Liverpool, where there are quite a number of deformed children, there is a limb-fitting centre which should be used instead of the mothers having to go a long distance and wait a long time for their children to be trained? Will the Minister let us have that list and also look at other places which could be used for this service?

Mr. Powell

Limb fitting for these children takes place at all limb-fitting centres, but training in the use of arms is at the moment limited to a certain number of centres. I will gladly send the hon. Lady a list of them.

Sir G. Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend help to clear up the confusion which exists in my mind, and which is fairly widespread, as to the measure of responsibility which his Department takes with regard to the use of drugs? To what extent is it responsible for warning people against dangerous drugs and for saying that drugs are not dangerous?

Mr. Powell

The responsibility for prescribing lies, in the individual case, with the doctor, but in this instance my Department took all measures which were practicably open to it to bring the relevant information to public notice as well as to the attention of the medical profession.

Mr. Elwyn Jones

Is this drug still available? If so, what special conditions are attached to its issue? Is there any special restriction upon its issue in prescription form, for instance?

Mr. Powell

I believe that at the moment it is not available, but I would rather answer that as a formal question.