Around 20,000 women with an active prescription for sodium valproate will receive a letter this week urging them to speak to their GP ‘immediately’ if they think they may be pregnant, NHS England has announced.
The letter will also urge those with an active prescription to continue their treatment course until their GP tells them otherwise, but to ‘seek a medicines review from their GP if they haven’t received one in the last 12 months’ and to ‘speak to their doctor if they are keen to try for a baby, before coming off contraception’.
It will also advise that they ‘continue to take contraceptive measures, ideally the implant or coil, while they are taking valproate’.
NHS England said female patients prescribed sodium valproate will receive the letter as part of a ‘drive to increase patient safety’, with those people also being reminded of the risks during pregnancy while taking an epilepsy drug.
The letter, from the NHS director of patient safety Dr Aidan Fowler, will go out to females in England aged 12 to 55 who are currently recorded as having an active prescription sodium valproate ‘in the coming days’.
Sodium valproate is a drug that can be used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder, however babies can be harmed if the person taking the drug becomes pregnant.
Dr Fowler said: ‘Valproate is the best treatment available for a small group of people with very complex illnesses, so it’s vital those who have an active prescription for it to continue taking it until they are told otherwise by their GP or consultant.
‘It’s vital too however that everyone understands the risk that doing so poses to your unborn child if you are pregnant, and this letter is a reminder of information that every woman and girl of childbearing age should receive from their doctors when the drug is first prescribed.’
NHS England said the letter is also a part of its ongoing response to former health minister Baroness Cumberlege’s Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, published last year.
A new data registry has also been established, managed by NHS Digital, ‘to better track prescriptions to women’.
This followed the MHRA’s ban on the prescribing of valproate to women and girls of childbearing age, unless they are on a pregnancy prevention programme.
GPs have also been advised that they must not prescribe valproate for bipolar disorder or migraine and that they must not prescribe the drug for epilepsy unless there is no other effective treatment available.