Pioneering hospital team goes to Westminster

29/02/2012

A Belfast based hospital team which has led the way in improving drug treatment for pregnant women who have epilepsy has been invited to address an All Party Parliamentary Group on epilepsy in Westminster later this month.

The neurology team – two doctors and an epilepsy nurse/midwife at Belfast Trust’s Royal Victoria Hospital say they could help even more pregnant women to have healthier babies if registering with them was mandatory rather than voluntary.

Since they began the UK National Epilepsy and Pregnancy Registry 15 years ago, they have monitored 8,500 pregnancies and now have the biggest database of its kind in the world.

As a result of their work the Committee on the Safety of Medicines has issued new recommendations. They have also helped develop guidelines with the National Institute for clinical Excellence (NICE).

“We have significantly influenced practice,” Dr John Craig, Consultant Neurologist with Belfast Health Trust said. For example many women who have epilepsy and who are pregnant are now given lower risk drugs tailored to their condition – and there is much more we could do.

“We are currently notified of around 25% of all eligible pregnancies in the UK. Ideally we would like to be monitoring the pregnancies of all women with epilepsy – and even extend this to pregnant women with other long term conditions.”

Every year around 2,500 women with epilepsy in the UK have a baby.

Dr Jim Morrow, Consultant Neurologist, said “These women have told us they want to know whether their anti-epileptic treatment will cause harm to their unborn child so we have had tremendous support from them on a voluntary basis.

“The case for mandatory registration for our survey is a strong one because the more opportunities we have to monitor the effect of the many different treatments we are lucky enough to have on offer today, the faster we can report on our findings and influence prescribing practice.”

The neurology team which also includes epilepsy nurse/midwife Beth Irwin, has recently been awarded part of €600,000 FP7-EU grant to work out the genetic influences that determine the safety in pregnant women of the epilepsy drugs.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Epilepsy Meeting will be held on Tuesday 28 February at 4.00pm in Portcullis House, Westminster – chaired by Laura Sandys MP.

The event is also supported by the Joint Epilepsy Council.