Families affected by anti-epilepsy drug should be given 'no fault redress scheme'

Families affected by anti-epilepsy drug should be given 'no fault redress scheme'

Karen Keely, founder of OACS Ireland: 'We support all mothers going forward who wish to take cases in order to seek the justice they so rightly deserve.' Picture: Moya Nolan

Families affected by the sodium valproate prescribing scandal should be given a no-fault redress scheme rather than facing the courts, their solicitor has urged.

On Wednesday, the first of 20 families will bring a case to the High Court on behalf of their 16-year-old son.

The anti-epilepsy drug was first prescribed in Ireland in 1975, with a British inquiry finding data had begun to emerge in the 1980s around the risks of taking valproate during pregnancy.

The HSE has estimated up to 1,500 babies were affected in Ireland, with impacts including lower intellectual ability, memory problems, difficulty with speech, and delayed walking and talking.

Solicitor with Michael Boylan Litigation, Ciara McPhillips, represents the 20 families involved in the legal cases.

Ms McPhillips has pointed to the stance taken by Dr Gabriel Scally in the CervicalCheck scandal when he called for alternatives to the court system to be developed in cases of medical negligence.

The State should take that on board and establish a non-adversarial, victim-friendly, no-fault redress scheme in this instance, rather than put families through the courts and in doing so cause further distress to families and incur, at taxpayer expense, further costs.” 

She is aware other families affected by this medication are carefully watching the opening case, wondering if they too will have to experience it.

“As for the lead case, which starts on Wednesday, I would like to think that it would be the only case to come before a court, and that it is not necessary for the hundreds of other mothers to go through an adversarial court process to achieve justice.” 

Advocacy group OACS Ireland (Organisation Anticonvulsant Syndromes Ireland) is supporting families affected.

“OACS Ireland is pleased that the Irish courts will soon be hearing the first case in respect to Epilim (sodium valproate). We support all mothers going forward who wish to take cases in order to seek the justice they so rightly deserve,” founder and mother of three affected sons Karen Keely said.

Last week, Dr Scally highlighted the courts as an obstacle for families, as part of his review of the implementation of progress on recommendations made around CervicalCheck.

“In my view, an approach based on the primacy of litigation is a sad indictment of any system for dealing with possible clinical errors,” he said in the report.

He said this increases the involvement of what he called the medico-legal complex referring to experts from the medical, legal, and insurance worlds who get involved.

“Of course, citizens must have access to the judicial system to right grievous wrongs, but it should not be the first, or only, option,” he said. “Patients should be told the truth when things go wrong.”

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