LAST nights BBC1 Here And Now documentary claimed that corticosteroid drugs, prescribed to an estimated eight million people in Britain, can leave you crippled and suffering violent mood swings, convulsions, heart failure, gross weight gain, muscle wasting and diabetes. It is alleged many patients have been given large doses to treat hay fever, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer by doctors without being told fully about the side-effects. Now, 1,000 cases alleging medical negligence against health authorities are expected to go to court starting in the New Year. The legal battle could be "bigger than Thalidomide". Here, we talk to two families who have suffered.
JANICE FAIRBRIDGE has seen her weight nearly double to 20st after being prescribed 400mg a day of corticosteriods by her GP after a bad asthma attack.
"I used to be just over l0st six-years ago but I was given a quick dose of steroids for five weeks. I saw myself go from a size 10 to 12 to 14 to 16 and now Im size 32," says the 36-year-old from Middlesbrough.
"My face became a moon face and I developed a hump on my back.
"I had an appointment with my asthma specialist and he was horrified that Id been given such a high dose for so long.
"I had to go to hospital because I was so ill on such a high dose and I was weaned off to 30mg a day, then 10mg a day.
"They made me totally depressed and I lost the muscles in my legs. Now I cant walk and am confined to a wheelchair. My immune system is now so weak that I will never be able to come off them. I caught chicken pox four months ago and it could have been fatal. The doctor had to come every day.
"I had to be retired from my job working for the local authority two years ago and my husband Stuart also had to give up his job- as a security officer because I need to have someone at home all the time.
"I also have osteoporosis and could break my bones easily. So we live on income support and scrape around for money now.
"We have had our home adapted and I had a vertical lift put in by the social services to upstairs.
My skin became like paper and covered in bruises. The most depressing thing of all is looking at photos of how I used to be. It reminds me that a few years ago I did an Army assault course in aid of the NSPCC and a sponsored superswim.
"Im lucky that my husband has been so supportive. I first went public about my condition in February and was so inundated with letters that I realised I wasnt alone.
"We set up a support group and now were taking legal action. We are also campaigning hard to get written warnings put on all steroid products."
Dr Joe Collier, pharmacology specialist at St Georges Hospital, London, says: What Im frightened of is a non-specialist it could be a general practitioner or it could be someone with another speciality treating somebody with these high doses. We know~it goes on."
SOLICITOR Terry Lee is battling for compensation for more than 200 victims and has 1,000-plus patients on his ifies who have been granted legal aid to pursue their claims of medical negligence. It is potentially the largest civil damages case to be held in Britain.
"The cases are going to be brought primarily on the grounds of medical negligence. The common complaint is, The doctors didnt tell me, they never warned me of the catastrophic side-effects.
"That is, firstly whether a patient was required to go on steroid medication, secondly whether the patient was advised and counselled properly, and thirdly whether they were properly monitored. In other words, was it too high for too long and therefore did they suffer side-effects as a result?"
Thousands of people I believe have had their lives wrecked because of the use of this medication."
ANYONE concerned about steroid treatment can obtain a fact sheet from the BBC Here And Now, Room 1165, BBC White City, 201 Wood Lane, London, W12 7TS, or you can contact Stuart and Janice Fairbridge at the Steroid Abuse Support Group,. 72 Costa Street, Southbank, Middlesbrough, Cleveland, TS6 6EU. Telephone:
0642 465118 between 2-4 pm