Epilepsy

Part of Culture, Media and Sport Committee – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 26th February 2015.

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Photo of Laura Sandys Laura Sandys Conservative, South Thanet 3:06 pm, 26th February 2015

I very much welcome that intervention. I was going to mention that case, which is extraordinary for two reasons. First, why would the young woman lose her job? She already had the job and was succeeding in it, so why was the sudden revelation of her epilepsy a reason for losing it? Secondly, her manager said that it had absolutely no impact on her ability to perform her role.

This is, in many ways, a 19th-century attitude. It is the expectation that when one tells somebody that one is epileptic, they expect one to be dropping to the floor foaming at the mouth. Many in this Chamber may not know that until the 1970s I, as an epileptic, would not have been allowed to marry—although I am sure that many did because they did not declare that they had epilepsy. That is the sort of stigma that we were dealing with not so long ago. It is a Dickensian, 19th-century perspective. I believe, fundamentally, that that lies a little at the heart of why, for a chronic condition that impacts one in 100 people—more than many other conditions—epilepsy does not get the right level of attention. This is an important task for us here in the Chamber and for the all-party group on epilepsy, and for me to continue outside this place. Many other conditions have overcome embarrassment and stigmatisation. It is absolutely crucial that we start to address this through our public services, our schools and education system, and our hospitals and GPs.

It is important that those of us with epilepsy are much more vocal. I hope that the Serjeant at Arms will not come and arrest me, but my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and I have actually broken the rules of the House. We did not exactly sneak up Big Ben, but we broke the very clear rules saying that anyone with epilepsy is not allowed to go and look at it. We thought, “You try and catch us!” We broke the rules of the House, and went up to the top. We have used that as a platform for saying that we should both contest it when epilepsy is not supported effectively enough, and challenge people who do not understand epilepsy enough and are fearful of those who have it. We think it took 150 years for somebody with epilepsy to go up Big Ben, and we are trying to identify other rules that we can break, so if hon. Members hear that my hon. Friend and I have got into trouble, they will know what it is all about.

Epilepsy has a very wide range of symptoms. I am very lucky to have very mild epilepsy. It is controlled and I am on medication, so there is no issue and I am very unlikely to have a seizure. However, it is incumbent on people such as me to be a voice for people who are suffering, and who may have a seizure every 10 to 15 minutes. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, like Young Epilepsy and Epilepsy Research, very much focuses on people with chronic epilepsy. Such people do not necessarily have a voice, and it is for us to make their voice heard.

The issue that has arisen in relation to the lady from London Underground is not the only example. Several people have e-mailed their Member of Parliament and asked me to raise their concerns. A young woman with a masters degree cannot find a job because employers say that she has declared she has epilepsy and they are concerned that she may become a problem for the company. That has now happened 12 times, but it must not continue. We must ensure that employers, the police and hospitals—even in a hospital, someone having a seizure has been accused of being drunk and disorderly—understand people with epilepsy and recognise their condition for what it is.