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NI woman says she was not told of potential drug dangers after children develop learning disabilities

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Susan Jamison from Belfast said she was never told about the side effects of sodium valproate

Susan Jamison from Belfast said she was never told about the side effects of sodium valproate

PA

Susan Jamison from Belfast said she was never told about the side effects of sodium valproate

A Northern Ireland woman whose children developed serious learning disabilities, psychological problems and physical defects after she took an anti-epileptic drug during pregnancy has said she was never told about its potential harms.

Susan Jamison was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager and prescribed sodium valproate - a drug which is now at the centre of a review into medicine safety.

But Ms Jamison said she was not informed that the drug carried risks of birth abnormalities.

As a result her children - Caroline, Anna and Joseph - were left with serious learning disabilities, psychological problems and physical defects, she said.

Sodium valproate has been linked to serious birth defects and learning difficulties among babies born to women who take the drug during pregnancy.

It has been estimated that 20,000 in the UK have been affected after being exposed to the drug as developing babies.

A new report warns that hundreds of babies are being born each year to UK mothers "unaware" of the risks that the medication they are taking could be harmful to a foetus.

"Women are still becoming pregnant whilst on valproate without any knowledge of the risks," the review states.

"This means that babies are still being born today - estimates suggest hundreds a year - exposed to sodium valproate despite the teratogenic [a medicine harmful to a developing foetus] risk being well recognised and undisputed."

The report of the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review concludes that it took "too long" for the healthcare system to respond to concerns about the widely used medication.

Ms Jamison (54), from Belfast, said she knew something was wrong after giving birth to her daughter Caroline in 1992.

"She was born with a strange facial look," she said. "Her ears were small and her eyes looked far apart.

"The paediatrician looked at her and asked if I had been taking valproate. I answered 'yes' but nothing more was said."

Caroline, now 28, was very slow to develop, only starting to walk after 19 months. Her speech was also delayed.

Anna was born in 1994 and Ms Jamison said: "She turned out to be the worst affected, with low intelligence, ADHD and dyspraxia.

"Anna developed autism and had to go to a special needs school. She is now 26 and will never be able to live independently. She has an emotional age of four and will always need care, which I provide."

After miscarrying in 1994, Susan later became pregnant with her youngest son, Joseph. He was born premature at 31 weeks.

"He has ADHD and dyslexia and his behaviour can be challenging. But he has a high IQ of 139 and is great with computers and musical instruments."

Ms Jamison said that she only found out about the link between sodium valproate and birth defects in 2018.

The pharmacy, where she works as a pharmacy assistant, received leaflets about then health secretary Jeremy Hunt launching the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review into how the NHS and others had responded to birth defects caused by valproate.

She said: "I couldn't believe for all those years I was in the dark about this. I always had a feeling something wasn't right but no doctor ever told me of the risks involved with taking this drug.

"I felt very emotional at first when I found out about the dangers involved in taking valproate during pregnancy - then that turned to anger. I even had some counselling last year to help me process it all.

"It's a mother's duty to protect her children and I feel like I have failed them."

Belfast Telegraph