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Volume 264: debated on Tuesday 24 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to provide funding for the opening of centres of excellence in treating epilepsy throughout the country. [38403]

The organisation of health services, including services for people suffering from epilepsy and the manner in which they are delivered, are matters for health authorities in their role as purchasers of services for their populations. They enter into arrangements with hospital and community trusts to ensure that the entire range of services is available, taking account of the needs of the local population and the priorities set for the use of the available resources.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the birth disorder sodium valproate syndrome and its connection with prescriptions following the misdiagnosis of epilepsy in mothers; and if he will make a statement. [38407]

Many women with epilepsy need anti-epileptic medication in pregnancy to keep their seizures under control. When prescribing a drug in pregnancy, the doctor weighs the risks associated with no treatment against the risk of possible side effects of treatment. Without treatment, epileptics are likely to have major seizures, which could cause serious harm to both mother and unborn child.

Sodium valproate—Epilim—is a commonly used effective anti-epileptic. Like all anti-epileptic therapies, it has been associated with occasional foetal abnormalities, in particular spina bifida. Doctors are aware of this risk through the product data sheet and the British National Formulary, which recommends that women who become pregnant on sodium valproate should be offered screening and advised about the risks. A patient information leaflet is also available to inform women about these risks.

The education and training of health professionals is a matter for the relevant royal college. However, as part of the programme of co-ordinated initiatives on epilepsy which I announced on 17 January, Official Report, columns 576–77, we shall be seeking to raise awareness of this condition among general practitioners and primary care teams.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he intends to take to provide information about epilepsy and its treatment to doctors and the public. [38404]

As part of the Department of Health's programme of co-ordinated initiatives on epilepsy, which I announced in the House on 17 January, we have:

  • Commissioned a new series of posters on epilepsy which aim to address the stigma associated with epilepsy by providing positive images of real people with epilepsy. Two of the posters were used to advertise National Epilepsy Week 1995 and two more will be issued shortly,
  • Provided £108,000 spread over three years to support the expansion of the British Epilepsy Association's freephone helpline and information service,
  • Provided £36,000 to support a nationwide programme of primary healthcare workshops on epilepsy run by the Continuing Care at Home Association, CONCAH,
  • Provided £40,000 over two years to support a joint Royal College of General Practitioners-National Society for Epilepsy Fellowship which will consider advice provided to general practitioners about the information and care that should be offered to people with epilepsy and those who care for them,
  • Provided funding for two innovative service development projects:
  • a. a total of £12,000 to support a project run by Doncaster health authority. This is an evaluation of a district epilepsy service involving an epilepsy clinic, guidelines for general practitioners, and a specialist epilepsy liaison nursing service.
  • b. a total of £83,000 to support a project run by general practitioners in Cheshire. This project is an evaluation of providing services to people with epilepsy, in the community, through a working collaboration between the general practitioners themselves and a specialist epilepsy centre, the David Lewis centre.
  • Awarded £90,846 to a joint Royal College of Physicians-National Hospital for Neurology project to develop national audit review criteria for the care of patients with newly diagnosed and established epilepsy,
  • Sponsored a major multidisciplinary conference on users of services, youth and primary care which aimed to share information between people working in the field and users of services and to encourage good practice throughout the NHS and the wider field. A report of the conference will be disseminated shortly.
Other possible activities aimed at professional and public education are under consideration.