7 September 2023
Sir Mike Penning backs calls for Primodos redress fund

Sir Mike Penning speaks in a debate on the Primodos hormone pregnancy test and backs calls for the Government to implement the recommendations of the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review and to set up a redress fund for families affected by Primodos.

Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)

It has been an honour and a privilege to sit through this debate. As usual, I will be speaking with no notes, because a lot of what has been said today I would have said myself. I pay tribute to the chair of the all-party parliamentary group, the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). We have done much work together over the years.

I pay tribute to Marie Lyon and all the other campaigners, but there is something about this debate. Every time we have it there is unity, conformity, passion and love in the Chamber but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, it disappears into Government and does not come back out. Governments of all descriptions have known about this for years and could have done something about it, but, for some unknown reason, they did not. When I was a Home Office Minister under my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) we did other inquiries together, but we had to battle to get them.

I do not understand why Governments, of all descriptions, do not come to the House to make statements, so we have to UQ them. It is plainly obvious that we will get a statement. We had three statements today, and quite rightly, but the Government would have been UQ-ed if they had not come to the House. Perhaps common sense is prevailing.

When it comes to really serious issues, like Primodos, for some unknown reason the Government, the Department and the Treasury pull down the shutters. It is not one Department, and I fear for the Minister when she stands at the Dispatch Box, because this is way outside the remit of just the Department of Health and Social Care.

We heard earlier that Government lawyers are threatening activists who are trying to get justice for their families, loved ones and others. Many of these campaigners have lost their loved ones, and some of them were victims themselves when they were told to have an abortion or when they had a miscarriage or stillbirth. A lot has changed in society but, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a really difficult thing for a woman to go to her GP because she thought she was pregnant, especially if she might be a single mum. These couples and single mums were passionately waiting for this pregnancy to make their life fulfilled, and then, a short time later, they were told that perhaps the best thing to do was to abort the child because they would have terrible deformities, or they might go through childbirth. I am lucky enough to have just become a grandfather. I remember being there 33 years ago when my wife punched me on the nose halfway through childbirth. She did not intend to do it; she had no idea what was happening. She was just in a lot of pain and doing that made her feel better. These women were there and then all of a sudden they realised that the disfigurements and abnormalities were there to be seen—or, as we have heard in this debate, not seen until a little later.

We will be having a debate later, which I will be leading, about a situation where babies are born exactly like that and people are being told, “Oh, they’ve got bunions.” They do not have bunions; they have a genetic deformity. But because that deformity is so rare, no one understands it. On this issue, however, the Government, the NHS, the GPs and the drug company knew what they were doing. If the drug company had withdrawn Primodos after a year, when it first started to see this, most of us would have understood that these sorts of situations occur and it should, rightly, have compensated. However, that is not what happened. This went on year after year, with it knowing about this drug.

My point about the word “prescribed” is not just semantics; this drug was not prescribed. A prescription is a prescription. Opening a drawer and giving out a couple of tablets to the lady in front of you is not a prescription; it is a handout. This was done with no information given as to the dangers that we all see today. We have only to buy a packet of paracetamol to see written across the back of it what could happen. These ladies were not given that opportunity. They needed to know whether or not they were pregnant, for whatever situation they were personally in, and the GP then opened the drawer. This was in an NHS surgery, with a GP who was self-employed, as they mostly are, but paid for by the NHS. Those drugs were given not through a pharmacist, but directly from the drug company to the GP to hand out.

Let me conclude on an area that we have not  really touched on, and it is something that Governments need to understand. I was a shadow health Minister for four years and I was passionate about this. The damage to our NHS of public understanding of this is so, so bad. The public need to trust the NHS. When they go to their GP, they need to be able to trust that if something needs to be done, it will be done for them and not for the system. Our NHS is being damaged by the way this cover-up continues. Government lawyers have accepted bits of Baroness Cumberlege’s report, but the fundamentals of it, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead made sure happened, have been completely ignored. We can run around the head of a pin and say, “It is because there was legal action here and legal action there,” but we should say, “Let’s just do what is right. We have made a mistake, in the Department or in the drug company, and we are going to put it right and put it right today, for those families who are still there and for those families we have lost.” That is the decent thing that this House should do.