Epilepsy

Part of Culture, Media and Sport Committee – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 26th February 2015.

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Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe 3:51 pm, 26th February 2015

I ask the Government to take a close interest in the case of my constituent Jessica Monks, which I shall relate from the perspective of her parents. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Laura Sandys for creating the opportunity for me to do so and for giving me the opportunity to inform myself about this important issue. I have been astonished by what I have learned.

I am glad to follow Teresa Pearce. As she will learn, I too will talk about issues of consent towards the end of my speech. It was shocking to hear what she set out about consent.

Jessica Monks was not just a cheerful but a positively joyful young woman. Her life and her untimely death are a case study in what can go badly wrong and what ought to be done. Jessica was born on 7 February 1996 and lived in Medmenham in my constituency. She suffered from epilepsy and was under the care of the neurology department of the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. I understand that she was learning to live very well with her condition.

Jessica died by suicide on Saturday 24 January 2015 as a result of a psychotic episode related to the epilepsy medication she was taking. She had been taking Zonisamide since about November 2013, but her seizures had not stopped. Her neurologist told her parents to keep an eye on her moods and to make an appointment with him immediately if her moods changed in any way.

Over Christmas 2014, Jessica, usually a joyful young woman, became noticeably low and withdrawn, very unlike her usual buoyant self. As requested, Mr and Mrs Monks attempted to make an appointment for Jessica to see her neurologist about her changing moods in early January, but despite several phone calls they did not receive a response. Her parents were concerned about her deteriorating mood so they made an appointment with her GP, who saw her on 8 January. The GP agreed that her mood had deteriorated but, crucially, felt that it was important to speak to her neurologist before prescribing any medication to help her mood improve.

On Friday 9 January, Jessica was admitted to Wexham Park hospital after taking an overdose of Zonisamide, oxcarbazepine and paracetamol. She was seen by a junior psychiatric nurse, and I am surprised that it was a nurse. I am sure that they do a wonderful job, but I would have thought that in such circumstances a consultant would have been appropriate. However, the nurse deemed her fit for discharge. Following a further attempted suicide on Monday 12 January, Jessica’s parents made another appointment to see her GP who again recommended that Jessica be prescribed an antidepressant but felt unable to do so until she had spoken to her neurologist. The GP did arrange an urgent psychiatric appointment for Jessica and, thankfully, the psychiatrist phoned that evening to make an appointment and offer out-of-hours support.

At the psychiatric appointment on 22 January, Jessica was diagnosed as suffering from a psychotic episode and was instructed to stop taking the anti-depressants immediately. The psychiatrist was concerned that the drug Jessica was taking was causing this psychotic side effect—which is, by the way, well known—and said she would speak to the neurologist that evening to discuss whether Jessica should cease taking the epilepsy drug Zonisamide.

On Saturday 24 January, Jessica died when she stepped in front of an oncoming train.