Valproate medicines are used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and occasionally to prevent migraine headaches

An audit conducted by the Company Chemists Association (CCA) has found that pharmacy teams have helped protect unborn babies from the harm of sodium valproate.

A fifth of the nearly 6,500 community pharmacies who participated in the two-part audit have indicated that they even would appoint a valproate champion in their pharmacies.

The audit, carried out between between July and October 2018 and February and March 2019, found that pharmacy teams’ awareness about the risks associated with valproate medicines and pregnancy improved over the audit period. There was also an increase in the proportion of valproate prescriptions, which indicated that a Pregnancy Prevention Programme (PPP) was in place for the patient.

The CCA said over 36,000 valproate prescriptions were dispensed during both phases of the audit and teams from participating community pharmacies went beyond their contractual obligations to help improve care and patient safety.

“The audit’s findings demonstrate the significant role that pharmacy teams play in raising awareness and understanding about high-risk medicines among patients and their families and carers. Supporting women and girls prescribed valproate is a key priority across the whole health sector,” said Janice Perkins, Chair of the Community Pharmacy patient Safety Group.

The audit report asked pharmacy teams to collaborate with MHRA’s valproate stakeholder network and various patient groups to continue their work to increase awareness and understanding associated with taking valproate medicines during pregnancy.

Commenting on the audit findings, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) urged every pharmacy owners, pharmacists and technicians to implement the report’s recommendations.

Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the GPhC said “there is still more to be done” even though the CCA’s findings provide evidence of some improvement.

“Our inspectors are looking for evidence that the pharmacy team are complying with the PPP for valproate in every inspection, and record their findings in inspection reports, which now published online. Any pharmacy found not to be complying would have to take immediate action to resolve this,” Rudkin said.

Valproate medicines are used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and occasionally to prevent migraine headaches. The product information for prescribers has included warnings about the possible risks of birth defects since its introduction in 1974.

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