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Medicines

Report into HPT link to birth deformities branded a whitewash

The findings of a report commissioned by the government into the link between hormone pregnancy tests (HPTs) and deformities in babies have been attacked as a ‘whitewash, an injustice and a betrayal’, by campaigners.

Conservative MP and former health minister Anna Soubry said, during a Commons debate on 16 November 2017, that she smelled ‘something like a very large rat’ and queried the findings of the official review into HPTs, including the controversial drug Primodos. 

Campaigners claim that HTPs, such as Primodos, commonly prescribed in the 1960s and 1970s caused serious disabilities and deformities in babies.

However, the report by an expert working group set up by the Commission on Human Medicine (CHM) concluded there was no ‘causal association’ between the drugs and any disabilities. 

Following an urgent question raised by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi in which she asked for the health secretary to make a statement on the report, health minister Steve Brine said the working group had ‘comprehensively analysed’ the effects of HTPs.

“Birth defects occur naturally in up to four in every 100 babies and a birth defect in a baby exposed to a medicine during pregnancy does not necessarily mean it was caused by the medicine,” he said. 

However, a number of MPs and campaigners have accused the government of a whitewash after it emerged that the working group had changed its terms of reference and rather than looking for a possible association between the drugs and disabilities had instead only looked for a causal link.

Primodos and other HTPs contained synthetic versions of progesterone and œstrogen and were used to diagnose pregnancy. They were removed from the market completely in 1978 after concern about the link with disabilities and the availability of better pregnancy tests. 

Shadow health minister Justin Madders questioned why the group had changed its investigation terms, saying the decision had been met with disbelief by campaigners.

“It has been called a whitewash, an injustice and a betrayal,” she said.

Meanwhile, SNP MP Hannah Bardell said that there were a number of documents that had not been included in the inquiry.

“It is not fair to say the report was comprehensive or independent,” she said.

Conservative MP Sir Mike Penning said: “It has to be an open and honest inquiry and I’m afraid families and many of people in this House today do not feel that is the case.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20204003

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  • Anna Soubry conservative member of parliament and former health minister

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