The moment her newborn son Sebastian was handed to her, Catherine McNamara knew something was terribly wrong. His tiny hands were deformed, unnaturally twisted and facing in the wrong direction. One was missing a thumb.
A few days later, the couple were devastated as doctors told them Sebastian’s deformities were permanent — and had been caused by the drug McNamara had been taking to control her epilepsy.
Like thousands of women, McNamara had been told her epilepsy medicine, sodium valproate, was safe to take during pregnancy. “They told me everything would be fine,” she said.
Sodium valproate, which was given to women with epilepsy for decades without proper warnings, has caused autism, learning difficulties and physical deformities in up to 20,000 babies in Britain.
Yet despite a 2020 report that criticised the failure over four decades to inform women about the dangers, doctors are still not properly warning women of the risks. According to the latest data, published in March, sodium valproate was prescribed to 247 pregnant women between April 2018 and September 2021.
An investigation by The Sunday Times has found that the drug is still being handed out to women in plain packets with the information leaflets missing, or with stickers over the warnings.
The government is refusing to offer any compensation to those affected by sodium valproate, despite an independent review by Baroness Cumberlege concluding in 2020 that families should be given financial redress.
The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt says doctors should now be banned from prescribing the drug to pregnant women — and that the families affected by it must be properly compensated.
He has compared the case to the scandal of the anti-morning-sickness drug thalidomide, which caused deformities in thousands of babies after it was licensed in the UK in the 1950s.
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Source: The Sunday Times, 16 April 2022
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