Spotlight: the ‘new thalidomide’

In the first of a new podcast series, we consider whether the UK is doing enough to prevent harm from sodium valproate.

In the UK, three babies are still being born each month after being exposed to sodium valproate. This is despite the risk of foetal valproate spectrum disorder being known about for many years.

This is a situation that has been described by Henrietta Hughes, the patient safety commissioner for England, as bigger than the thalidomide scandal, which hit the headlines in the 1950s and 1960s. But is this comparison warranted?

In the first of a series of shorter ‘Spotlight’ episodes of The PJ Pod, executive editor Nigel Praities speaks with senior data journalist, Julia Robinson, about her recent investigation into this issue and whether NHS England is on track to meet its target to reduce the use of the drug in people who can get pregnant by 50% by the end of 2023.

Julia also gives an insight into new research that may suggest the risks from sodium valproate and other drugs used for epilepsy may have been underestimated.

This episode was produced by Geoff Marsh.

Want to hear more from The PJ Pod? Follow us on SpotifyGoogle PodcastsApple Podcasts or other popular podcast platforms to listen to our latest episodes. 

Julia Robinson’s full investigation: ‘Why is the UK struggling to contain its sodium valproate problem?‘ (The Pharmaceutical Journal online, 10 February 2023)

Learning resource: ‘Valproate use in women: minimising the risks‘ (The Pharmaceutical Journal online, 15 December 2020)

Advice: ‘Safe Supply of Valproate medication‘ (Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Group, 2018)

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2023, Vol 310, No 7970;310(7970)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.175389

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