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8th January 2019

Gov pledges to exempt epilepsy from latest emergency medicine plans post-Brexit

Epilepsy Society is pleased to hear that the Government has promised to exempt people with epilepsy from its most recent plans for potential post-Brexit medicine shortages. The Department of Health and Social Care is proposing to give pharmacists power to dispense alternative drugs if those prescribed by GPs are in short supply after Britain leaves the EU.

But epilepsy charities have warned that this could lead to people having more seizures, breakthrough seizures and could, in severe cases, prove fatal. There are 600,000 people in the UK with epilepsy.

The charities sent a letter to Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, on 21 December 2018, calling for action to address the likelihood of medicines shortages in the near future and expressing concerns about the Serious Shortage Protocol.

The coalition letter was then sent to The Sunday Times on 3 January 2019, calling again for the Government to rethink the plans that have been shared with the sector and urging full openness and scrutiny of emergency planning.

The charities wrote: "The government's planned use of serious shortage protocols as emergency powers to authorise pharmacists to over-rule medical prescriptions is frightening. People with epilepsy risk developing seizures if their usual medication is altered."

In response to the letter, the Department of Health reassured the charities that people with epilepsy would not be affected: "Any protocol would be developed and signed off by specialised clinicians to ensure the system is robust and safe."

Professor Ley Sander, Medical Director at Epilepsy Society, said: “It is heartening to see that the Government has responded swiftly to representations made on behalf of people with epilepsy and recognised the unique challenges posed by the neurological condition.

"It is vital that people have access to a consistent supply of their medication. Rationing medication is not an option with epilepsy and substituting between different varieties of a drug is not always advised.

"It can take months to optimise a person's treatment through epilepsy medications, ensuring they have the correct amount of a drug in their blood to ensure good seizure control while avoiding side effects. Any disruption to the achieved drug regime can result in break through seizures which can be harmful, if not fatal.

"In 2014, the MHRA produced guidance around prescribing anti-epileptic medications, helping doctors to determine when it is imperative to maintain a consistent supply of a particular anti-epileptic medication for individuals with epilepsy. This was the first time such prescribing guidance has been issued, underlining the absolute importance of a consistent supply of medication for those with epilepsy.”

Signatories to the letter included Jane Hanna, Chief Executive of epilepsy charity SUDEP Action, Phil Lee of Epilepsy Action and Professor Matthew Walker, President of the British-branch of the International League Against Epilepsy. Paula Sherriff, Labour MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on epilepsy.