Valproate (including sodium valproate) contained in some epilepsy medications, poses a significant risk to unborn babies and can lead to foetal valproate syndrome. The commonly used epilepsy medications containing sodium valproate are Epilim, Depakote and valproic acid (Convulex).

In women who take valproate during pregnancy, approximately 1 in every 10 babies will be born with birth defects and/or issues with a child’s learning and development. The British National Formulary (BNF) confirms that women who are taking anti-epileptic drugs who may become pregnant should be informed of the risks and referred to an appropriate specialist for advice.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK has developed strict guidelines about how doctors can prescribe valproate medicines and confirms that doctors cannot prescribe valproate to women of childbearing age, unless they are on a pregnancy prevention programme.

Victoria McMahon, now 37, from Speke, Liverpool, was not warned of the risks associated with sodium valproate by her GP. She had difficulties conceiving and was referred to a fertility clinic but her GP failed to discuss the risks of her medication Epilim Chrono, which contained sodium valproate. 

She went on to become pregnant and continued to take her epilepsy medication during pregnancy, without knowing that that the medication had a significant risk of causing brain damage and major physical deformity to her baby. This sadly led to her having to undergo the termination of her baby boy while six months pregnant. Ms McMahon suffered significant psychological distress as a result and she has since undergone counselling. She has recently settled her civil medical negligence claim for compensation and her legal costs for £150,000.

Karen Reynolds, Partner of our Derby and Stoke on Trent offices represented a claimant in another case Webster v Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 62. This decision has been referred to as a “landmark case” and emphasised the importance of patient choice in respect of the treatment they receive. This decision confirmed that the role of the medical practitioner is to advise, that they must ensure that they discuss all material risks with their patients, and that a patient has the ultimate choice as to which treatment they receive.

Freeths’ Clinical Negligence Solicitors have a national reputation for providing the highest quality advice following failures to provide appropriate care during labour and delivery. See our website for further information:

If you are concerned about any treatment or which you or a loved one have received during pregnancy or labour, please contact our specialist medical negligence lawyers in our national team:-

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke) on 0845 272 5677 or

Jane Williams, Partner (Nottingham) on 0845 272 5724 or

Siobhan Genever, Director (Nottingham) on 0845 271 6793 or

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/Milton Keynes) on 0186 578 1019 or

Please see the link to the news report as follows: