The British government has apologised to sufferers from the thalidomide scandal in the 1950 and 1960s.

Thousands of babies were born with birth defects after a pill was made available to counteract morning sickness without proper research.

The thalidomide scandal triggered a worldwide overhaul of drug-testing regimes.

Thalidomide was marketed internationally to pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a treatment for morning sickness.

About 10,000 babies were born around the world with defects caused by the drug, ranging from malformed limbs to no arms or legs.

Health minister Mike O'Brien said that 'the British government wishes to express its sincere regret and deep sympathy for the injury and suffering endured by all those affected when expectant mothers took the drug thalidomide between 1958 and 1961.'

In Britain, The Thalidomide Trust helps 466 people, most of whom have two or four limbs missing as a result of their mothers having taken the drug, which was licensed for use in Britain in 1958 and withdrawn three years later.

The British survivors receive an average of less than £20,000 a year in compensation from the manufacturers of the drug, according to media reports.

The British Health Minister announced that the government would additionally fund a £20m, three-year pilot scheme to meet the health needs of thalidomide survivors.