The Primodos scandal: why Theresa May is calling for ‘redress’

Drug given to pregnant women is thought to have caused a range of birth defects

Prime minister Theresa May
(Image credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Theresa May is demanding that women who were given an unsafe drug during pregnancy should be compensated for their suffering - and for their long wait for justice.

“I think this is a very sad example of a situation where people were badly affected, not just by the physical and mental aspect of what Primodos actually did, but by the fact that nobody then listened to them,” former prime minister May told Sky News documentary Bitter Pill: Primodos.

The pregnancy test drug was widely prescribed by GPs in the UK for almost 25 years from 1953. Prior to the introduction of Primodos, pregnancy tests “involved injecting the woman’s urine into a female toad that would then ovulate only if the woman was pregnant”, says The Guardian.

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But safety concerns led to the withdrawal of the hormone-packed drug in 1978.

“Campaigners claim it caused birth defects in their children, such as blindness, deafness, spina bifida, and heart and limb defects, or even killed their babies,” the BBC reports.

Primodos manufacturer Schering - later bought by Bayer - still denies that the drug caused the deformities.

But in July this year, the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review found that the tests had caused “avoidable harm”, and ruled that the manufacturer had “an ethical responsibility” to fund financial compensation.

Speaking on the Sky documentary, which airs tonight at 9pm, May says the government must now look “at the whole question of redress and about how that redress can be brought up for people”.

The call for actions marks a rare intervention from a former PM who has remained largely silent since leaving office a year ago.

“While some will always remember her premiership as a period of stalled Brexit negotiations and Tory party infighting,” says Sky News, “it is clear that Theresa May sees righting this apparent historic injustice as a key plank of her legacy.”

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.