The valproate scandal has altered the lives of many parents and children, and has even created a disability of its very own; Foetal Valproate Syndrome.
Foetal Valproate Syndrome, or Foetal Anticonvulsant Syndrome, has affected tens of thousands of UK children since the 1970s. The question is, what exactly is sodium valproate, the scandal surrounding it, and what has happened to the families and children affected?
In this article, we’ll explore these questions, and update you on the latest news stories regarding the issue. Take a look…
What is Sodium Valproate?
According to the NHS, sodium valproate can be used to treat various brain disorders “by reducing abnormal electrical activity within the brain”. They say that the main reasons for being prescribed a drug containing sodium valproate are:
- Bipolar disorder
- Migraine headaches
The drug comes in capsule, tablet, or liquid form to be taken at home, and sometimes an injection administered in hospital.
What is the Sodium Valproate Scandal?
The scandal mainly focuses on women who were diagnosed sodium valproate for epilepsy. The main issue that has arisen from this drug is that it can be harmful to babies if the mother ingests sodium valproate during their pregnancy.
What’s become clear in recent years is that the risks associated with the drug should have been made public knowledge 40 years ago. An article in the Guardian sheds a light on this, providing quotes from Catherine Cox from the Fetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome Association. Shockingly, she states that:
“These warnings could have and should have been given in 1974. However, there was a deliberate decision not to publish them.
“Regulators knew about the risks when they were considering licensing sodium valproate for the control of seizures in epilepsy. But documents from 1973 show they thought telling patients ‘could give rise to fruitless anxiety’.”
According to the BBC, this has left 20,000 UK children in the UK with disabilities caused by the drug since the 1970s.
These days, the drug won’t be prescribed to females of childbearing age in the UK unless they are made aware of the risks. They must sign a form to say that they have been informed and understand these risks.
What Has Happened to the Children Affected by Sodium Valproate?
Sodium valproate has been proven to cause both physical and mental deformities in babies born whilst the mother has been taking it. in more detail, these problems include:
Around 10 in 100 babies born after the mother has ingested valproate have a birth defect. This compares to the two or three in 100 babies born with birth defects for the average woman. The birth defects caused by this include:
- Face and skull malformations, including cleft lips or palates.
- Spina bifida, where the spinal bones don’t develop properly.
- Malformations of the limbs, sexual organs, heart, kidney, or urinary tract.
- Complete or partial deafness.
Learning and Developmental Problems
Even more common are developmental problems in children who are victims of the drug. In fact, between 30 and 40 children in every 100 born whilst the mother takes valproate have problems with development. These might include:
- Late and/or poor speech
- Poor language skills
- Late to walk
- Lower intelligence
- Memory problems
- At higher risk of being born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Increased risk of developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
What is the Valproate Pregnancy Prevention Programme?
Because of the above, the Valproate Pregnancy Prevention Programme has been put in place for women and girls who have no other choice but to be put on sodium valproate for their epilepsy.
The programme encourages women and girls of reproductive ages to continue taking the drug, as per their doctor’s advice. However, it acknowledges the fact that any pregnancies when taking it may be at risk of birth defects. So, it encourages the use of contraception, and provides contraceptive and health advice for females in this position.
Latest Valproate Scandal News
This, alongside the pelvic mesh and Primodos health scandals, has left many families in disarray. In response, the government was urged to issue a sincere apology over the scandal by the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review in the “First do no harm” report of July 2020.
Considering the huge uproar this has created, the issue is mentioned in the UK newspapers regularly. Even within the past few months, it’s been mentioned, and some of the latest stories with regards to it include:
- Daily Mirror: many families living with the effects of the scandal may be left without compensation. It leaves them with worries concerning the health and wellbeing of their children when they – the parents – are no longer around to take care of them.
- org: they are shocked by the lack of action taken by the government after the Cumberlege report was published over one year ago. They criticised the government for taking six months to respond to this initial report, and we are still awaiting a proper response over a year later.
- Epilepsy Research UK: the NHS has sent out a letter to all women and girls in England aged 12-55 currently prescribed sodium valproate. It provides important information about safety considerations, advice on contraception and pregnancy, and encourages regular treatment reviews.
- Epilsesy Society: former Health Minister, Lord O’Shaughnessy, discussed that since the publication of First Do No Harm, 150 further babies have been born with some form of Foetal Valproate Syndrome. He questions why the government can’t move faster for these people.
- Ireland Government: in November 2020, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly committed to holding an inquiry into the historical licensing and use of sodium valproate in Ireland.
What Should You Do if You Are a Victim of the Valproate Scandal?
Clearly, the sodium valproate scandal is not over, and won’t be for many decades to come. It’s clear to see that, despite the government’s failings to compensate victims, not much urgency has been put towards making amends.
If you or your family were affected by the scandal, be sure to seek the advice of a solicitor who can guide you through whether you have a legitimate claim for compensation. The compensation can help you with funding the emotional and physicals needs of your child, and your family.
Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained medical professional. Be sure to consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.