Minister 'committed' to inquiry into drug linked to neurological problems in 1,500 children

Minister 'committed' to inquiry into drug linked to neurological problems in 1,500 children

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said a review of sodium valproate prescriptions will be designed around giving a voice to patients and their families.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly says he is "committed" to a public inquiry into the historical licensing and prescription of anti-convulsant drug sodium valproate to pregnant women.

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane asked Mr Donnelly about the status of an inquiry, which was promised in 2020. Mr Cullinane said that "1,500 children experienced a major congenital malformation or some form of neurodevelopmental delay because of exposure to sodium valproate".

Mr Donnelly said he is "very sympathetic to the patients and their families over what has happened" and had met patient groups involved in late 2020 and supported their call for a review into sodium valproate.

"I committed to making it happen. Since then, senior officials in my department have been engaging closely with the patient groups and other stakeholders over the past year to finalise the terms of reference to get this review underway. 

The minister said: "Critically the review will be designed around giving a voice to patients and their families and looking at the use of sodium valproate in Ireland since it was first licensed.

"Many different groups are involved here, including the manufacturer, prescribers of the drug, our medicines and pharmacy regulators, and most importantly the patients themselves and their families."

Anger over delays

Mr Cullinane, however, said that the minister's answer was not sufficient. He said that patients groups are "very sore" about the delays.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane has called for a timeframe for the inquiry to be established.
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane has called for a timeframe for the inquiry to be established.

"They said that nurses were sent to families to assess their support needs but no supports ever came. 

"That is the problem. There has been a commitment to an inquiry which has still not been established.

"I heard the minister say he wants to get it right. Those affected also want to get it right but they need some sort of timeframe as to when it will happen."

Mr Cullinane added: "Solid commitments were given in respect of community care, as the minister has outlined. Nurses sat down with patients and assessed their needs but those patients simply have not received supports. Commitments and promises were made in respect of medical cards and a whole range of medical supports. 

"It is great that nurses are engaging with these individuals but it does not suit anybody if there is nothing coming out the other end, the HSE is stating it does not have the resources and there is a blame game going on.

"Somebody is at fault and it is not the patients," the Sinn Féin TD said.

Babies born to mothers who take medicines containing valproate during pregnancy have a 30%-40% risk of developmental disability and a 10% risk of birth defects. The HSE has estimated that over 1,250 children may have been impacted in Ireland between 1975 and 2015.

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