Part of Culture, Media and Sport Committee – in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 26th February 2015.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South 3:59 pm, 26th February 2015

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I hope to be as good as her, but I am not sure that I will be.

This is a timely debate, in that it comes between two important dates. The World Health Organisation adopted a resolution on 2 February this year, and world epilepsy day is on 26 March, when we are all urged to “colour it purple”. It is just an accident that I happen to be wearing purple today. This debate is taking place 12 days after 14 February, and most people probably know that St Valentine is the patron saint of epilepsy. The WHO launched a campaign on 9 February to improve the epilepsy treatment gap and it urged member states to look into the matter. It set out a number of clauses, and I shall mention just a few of them. Member states were urged: to ensure public awareness of and education about epilepsy; to integrate epilepsy management; and to introduce and implement national health care plans of action for epilepsy management. There are many more clauses and I urge hon. Members to look at them. A number of excellent reports have been published recently and I will touch on those in a moment.

I want to deal with three different stages of services: those for young people; the transition from young person to adult; and adult services. Here are some background facts. The brain is the most complex organ in the body with more than 100 billion neurones passing messages around it. The vast majority of the brain’s activities are subconscious. Epilepsy is a life-threatening neurological condition that can affect anybody at any age without warning. There are 40 different types of epilepsy and at least 40 different types of seizure, and 87 people are diagnosed with the condition every day. Epilepsy now accounts for more deaths than cervical cancer and is among the top 10 causes of amenable deaths.

I want to turn first to young people. The report “Improving epilepsy care for children and young people”, published by Young Epilepsy, University college London and Whittington Health highlighted unacceptable levels of misdiagnosis, inadequate communication, a variation in care and a fragmentation of services. There are 112,000 children and young people who have epilepsy, which is one in every 200. The report made seven recommendations. They include creating an individual plan for every child and young person—as one parent has said, a one-size-fits-all approach is wrong; designing a year-of-care tariff for epilepsies; and creating an audit and annual review of relevant outcomes for each child and young person. Dr Amit Bali, who was involved in producing the report, has said that only small steps have been taken in areas that require big leaps forward.

I was at the launch of Epilepsy12 at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health a few years ago. A number of charities were also involved in that, including

Epilepsy Action and Young Epilepsy. Epilepsy12’s report revealed variations in the level of care and available resources such as the specialist nurses and clinics that are needed to provide care across the United Kingdom. Amazingly, it also found that some services were not even meeting NICE guidelines. In a later report, published in 2014, Epilepsy12 said that some progress had been made, and that two thirds of units had specialised epilepsy nurses and more clinics were being held. However, only two in every three units reported holding a weekly epilepsy clinic just for children and young people.

The way in which young people are treated is important because it effects their education as well as their lifestyle. A three-year population-based study by Children with Epilepsy in Sussex Schools—CHESS—found that 95% of the children affected had difficulty in at least one of the assessed areas and that most of the children had several problems. The CHESS study found that 60% of the children met the diagnostic criteria for at least one behaviour or motor disorder, but only one third had previously been diagnosed. We have heard about the difficulties that children on anti-epileptic drugs have. A study by the Epilepsy Society showed that AED drugs have a detrimental impact on processing speed and memory work.

On the transition period, Epilepsy12 found that there were inadequate services and transition arrangements for young people. So more attention needs to be given to handover clinics, which could comprise both adult and paediatric health professionals. The loss of the continuity of care at transition needs to be addressed to ensure that new relationships with the clinicians are established.

Let me now discuss adults. The report by Epilepsy Action on clinical commissioning groups and commissioning in November 2014 found that only three out of 140 health and wellbeing boards are making plans for people with epilepsy. Some 78% of CCGs have not developed and do not intend to develop a written needs assessment for people with epilepsy—that must change. Evidence also shows that people with epilepsy have poor access to epilepsy specialists and epilepsy specialist nurses, and do not have regular reviews of their epilepsy. My hon. Friend Kate Hoey was kind enough to mention my ten-minute rule Bill, in which I called for direct referrals to a tertiary specialist: That has not been taken up yet, so we need to have referrals from a GP specialist to a tertiary specialist without the need to go through a generalist consultant.

The sudden unexpected death in epilepsy is an important issue, as was highlighted by SUDEP Action. The national sentinel audit of epilepsy deaths in 2002 found that 42% of such deaths were potentially avoidable. Brain surgery is another area where there is a lack of availability, with only 300 operations being carried out on adults each year. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 adults could and should benefit from the only cure there is for their epilepsy. I also wish to add my voice to those of other hon. Members on the outrage at the sacking of the young person at London Underground.

But there is hope for the future. The Epilepsy Society is undertaking active research. Its report highlighted a number of firsts, such as the first brain and tissue bank for epilepsy. It has created the first multilingual digital information resources for epilepsy, and it hopes to unravel the genetic architecture of the epilepsies and bring new hope for people with the condition. We should consider ourselves lucky in this country, because not only do we have committed practitioners who are desperate to help their patients, but we have areas where pioneering work is going on, such as that being done by Professor Cross, who has pioneered the ketogenic diet. In the US, until there was “Obamacare” those with epilepsy could not be covered by insurance because they had a pre-existing condition. We take all that for granted, which is why this debate fulfils the important role of highlighting awareness of this condition.

Hon. Members will remember the drama “The Promise”, where the lead character, Erin, not only was a heroine, but had epilepsy, which was incidental to her life: Its writer, Peter Kosminsky, lately the director of “Wolf Hall”, said that he wanted to show someone being brave and getting on with her life without letting her epilepsy circumscribe her actions, in the hope of de-stigmatising the condition. On de-stigmatising, let us also not forget the roll call of creative successful people who have or have had the condition: musicians Neil Young and Prince; and the writers Dostoevsky; Charles Dickens and Lord Byron. I hope we have today brought epilepsy out of the shadows of stigma and discrimination, and into the spotlight of knowledge, awareness and hope for the future.