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MPs debate safety issues around sodium valproate in House of Commons

Although we could not see them as we watched today's  sodium valproate debate  via Parliament Live TV, the presence of three women -Janet Williams, Emma Murphy and Deborah Mann - as they sat in the public gallery, was very much felt in the House of Commons.

Janet, Emma and Deborah all have children affected by the epilepsy drug sodium valproate and have worked tirelessly over the years to raise awareness of risks associated with the medication during pregnancy.

The fact that MPs from across the country spoke with such passion and conviction was largely due to the resolute commitment of the women to fight for families whose children have physical and learning disabilities as a direct result of being exposed to valproate in the womb.

Janet's two boys, now in their late 20s have multiple learning difficulties, Emma's five children have physical and learning disabilities, and Deborah's two surviving daughters - she lost three children - both have lives compromised by congenital abnormalities,  physical pain, Asperger's and dysmorphic features. Her younger daughter Branwen, knows that she could die at any time.

Comparison with  'thalidomide sandal'

The debate in the House of Commons was championed by Norman Lamb MP, who compared sodium valproate to the thalidomide scandal, calling for either an inquiry or a Hillsborough-style panel to find out why 'this scandal has been allowed to continue for so long.'

Mr Norman said that he had first become aware of the issues around sodium valproate when he was a minister in 2013 and had asked the Medicines and Healthcare products Agency what was being done about this.

Following a review by the European Medicines Agency, the MHRA released a toolkit in 2016 for dissemination to healthcare professionals and all women taking sodium valproate. However he pointed out that a survey carried out by Epilepsy Society in conjunction with Young Epilepsy and Epilepsy Action, showed that 68 per cent of women taking sodium valproate had not received the information.

Government should follow Epilepsy Society's lead

He said that Epilepsy Society was arguing for yearly face-to face discussions with a healthcare professional before renewal of prescription, so that women could be warned of the risks around the drug. He urged the Government to implement this along with mandatory information about sodium valproate.

Call for inquiry

He also called on the Government:

  • to ensure that all women have access to specialist care without the haphazard variability that is currently seen across the country
  • to publish the prescribing rates of all clinical commissioning groups
  • to ensure a financial support package for all families affected by fetal valproate syndrome
  • to publish a statement of regret and apology for those let down by the system
  • and to hold an inquiry or Hillsborough-style panel to find out how the 'sodium valproate scandal' has been allowed to continue for so many decades.

He told the Commons: 'The Government has a duty to do right by these people. There is an overwhelming case for it. If it was right for thalidomide victims, it is right for these families.'

Norman Lamb's motion was carried by those at the debate.

Watch and follow the debate

We have been tweeting live from the debate and you can read tweets from the discussion at Twitter.com/epilepsysociety or search #valproatedebate and #sodiumvalproate on Twitter.

You can read the full transcript of the Valproate and Fetal Anticonvulsant Syndrome  Debate at Hansard online.

You can also catch up with the debate at www.parliamentlive.tv/Commons