§ Miss Fookes
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) how many abortions have been performed in the last year for which figures are available as a result of the unborn child being damaged by drugs prescribed to the expectant mother; and what action he is proposing to take to reduce the number of abortions performed for this purpose;
(2) what warnings are issued by his Department to the medical profession and expectant mothers regarding the dangers of taking any medicines and drugs during pregnancy.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The number of abortions performed on women resident in England and Wales in 1981 where the principal medical condition was reported as suspected damage to the foetus from drugs was 277. This includes suspected damage from all drugs, whether prescribed or not, but excludes drug dependence.
The Committee on Safety of Medicines has advised doctors in its publication "Current Problems" on the risks attaching to the use of particular drugs in pregnancy and that drugs should not be given during pregnancy unless they are essential. The Committee also ensures that data sheets on new products issued to doctors by pharmaceutical companies contain appropriate warnings.
The British National Formulary, which is distributed by our Department to all prescribing doctors, contains guidance on the safeguards which should be observed when prescribing drugs for pregnant women. This includes a list of drugs which may have harmful effects, and we are considering whether this guidance could usefully be reinforced. Prescribing advice is also given from time to time in the Prescriber's Journal and "Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin" which are funded by our Department.
The Health Education Council, with which we have raised this matter publishes a leaflet "Pregnancy—what you need to know" which contains advice on taking drugs during pregnancy and is to publish this month "The Book of Pregnancy", which will also give advice and recommend women to consult their doctor before taking any medicine during pregnancy.