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Mothers sue over epilepsy drug

28 Jan 2002

A group of 20 mothers with epilepsy have won legal aid to sue health authorities after taking sodium valproate during pregnancy which left their children with birth defects and learning difficulties, reported The Times.

Lawyers are launching compensation claims for damages citing negligence. Nina Roland, acting on behalf of the families, said:

"We have expert medical evidence to show that these women were not advised of the risks they faced and were not always given appropriate medication."

A study by Dr Tim Betts, who runs a pre conception counselling clinic at the Birmingham University Seizure Clinic, showed that of 60 women who continued to take their normal epilepsy drugs during pregnancy, 11 of the children born had foetal abnormalities. However, in a group of 90 women whose epilepsy drugs were changed prior to becoming pregnant, all of the children born were normal. The study showed that children whose mothers were taking sodium valproate during preganancy, or mothers who were taking more than one anti-epileptic drug during pregnancy, were most at risk.

In a statement, the charity British Epilepsy Association (BEA) urged all women with epilepsy planning a pregnancy to seek pre-conception counselling, including a clear and understandable explanation of their anti-epileptic drug option during their pregnancy.

Philip Lee, Chief Executive of BEA said:

“I would encourage women to talk to their Doctor or nurse about these issues early on, so they can get the most appropriate treatment for them from the start. GPs should regularly see women with epilepsy in order to hear their concerns, not rely on giving them repeat prescriptions without seeing them for long periods.”

A survey of 6,000 BEA female members in 1999 found that over one third of those who had children claimed to have received no advice at all during pregnancy, and one quarter of the women had not discussed their pregnancy with anyone. Only one quarter of the women who had already had children had discussed the issues with a doctor before conception.

A five-year study into women with epilepsy aimed at trying to identify with anti epilepsy drugs are safest in pregnancy, is currently being run at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and it set to report shortly.

A spokesman for the Medicines Control Agency, the body that aims to promote and safeguard public health through ensuring appropriate standards of safety and quality for all medicines in the UK, told The Times that it will now meet to discuss the need to provide more information to medical professionals about epilepsy medication.