Joint case study highlights how healthcare professionals can support women and girls of childbearing age who are taking sodium valproate

Published on 18 June 2021

Read the case study

Sodium valproate ('valproate') is a medication for epilepsy that can cause harm to children if taken by their mothers during pregnancy.

Valproate was one of the three interventions that was considered by the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety (IMMDS) Review (also known as the Cumberlege review), which was published in July 2020. The review highlighted that women were not adequately informed about the risks of taking valproate.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have developed strengthened guidelines, which should mean that no more girls and women of childbearing age should be prescribed valproate without discussing the risks with their healthcare providers and having a pregnancy prevention programme in place while on this medication. For some women who are already taking valproate who are unaware of the risks, this is a complex situation which needs to be discussed sensitively with their healthcare provider to work together for the best possible solution for their seizure control.

Nurses and midwives across the UK, and nursing associates in England, work in partnership with people who use services to ensure their care and safety are at the heart of services.

The professionals on our register work across a variety of different settings and nurses and midwives may also have the opportunity to work with women and families to offer information, and access to resources and services relating to sexual and reproductive health and contraception. Health visitors working with families can help to identify any development issues that could be the result of valproate use in pregnancy.

We know that we need to work together as professional regulators to ensure that people who use services receive the best possible care. That's why we have joined with the General Medical Council and the General Pharmaceutical Council in developing this case study to highlight how professionals can work together to support women who are taking this medication.

Read the case study on discussing the risks of sodium valproate.

NHS England and Improvement have also published a patient safety letter for women who are taking valproate which will be sent to young girls and women in England aged between 12 and 55.

Read the NHS England and Improvement letter to women and girls taking sodium valproate.

Work relating to valproate is also underway in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and the NMC is in contact with colleagues there about this work.

We will continue to refresh our website with any further updates relating to this issue.

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