Sir Mike Penning welcomes the Cumberlege report into the Primodos scandal

9th July 2020

Sir Mike Penning MP has welcomed the Cumberlege report which has concluded that both the state and the drug manufacturer have “an ethical responsibility” to fund the costs of care for the victims of the 1970s Primodos scandal.


In October 2017, I stood in this very spot with the report in my hand, and it was a whitewash. It was disgusting to the victims—we have not heard that word yet today, but they are victims—of what has gone on in these three terrible cases. In particular, the Primodos victims were shown no compassion in the report and were in many ways blamed for what had happened to their children.

The new report is completely different. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), who was the Secretary of State, because I was critical of the three problems being put to Baroness Cumberlege in one inquiry; I thought it would be much better if each was looked at individually. I apologise to Baroness Cumberlege, because I said that to her as well as to the then Secretary of State, and I was wrong. This report is probably the best report on what has gone wrong inside the NHS that I have ever seen.

The NHS does wonderful things, but it gets things wrong. We all praise the NHS. We stood outside last weekend—I hope people did—and praised the NHS on its 72nd anniversary. But when it gets it wrong, it gets it seriously wrong. In 1967, it knew that Primodos was a danger: the company knew and the NHS knew. Young women went to their GP, and said, “I think I might be pregnant”. Very often, no prescription was issued. There were no warnings and no concept of what could happen to their foetus if they were pregnant. The drawer was opened and the tablets were given to them. Those tablets were given by the drug company to the GP, who in many cases did not even issue a prescription.

Today, we have the report, with nine recommendations, but how are we going to compensate those families? It is not just for the women, but for their families, including the men who have stood next to them, such as Marie Lyon’s husband, who has been with her all the way through. How are we going to compensate those who lost their baby, who were told to abort their baby or who had a stillbirth? How are we going to compensate and help those families when the loved ones, the mums and dads of the survivors—they have terrible disfigurements, and they did brilliantly well to give evidence for the report—are no longer with us and the survivors need such support afterwards? While we must make sure this never happens again, we must also make sure that we look after those families and that the drug companies pay for what they did to those families.

My right hon. Friend makes an impassioned and compassionate contribution, and he should be recognised for his long-term campaigning and his advocacy of the people he mentions who have suffered as a result of what has happened. I cannot comment on the individual points he has raised, particularly on Primodos, because there is legal action pending, but I hear everything he said and others will hear his comments too.



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