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Sofa spat with Naga Munchetty? I don’t think so

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Clare Pelham

Sofa spat with Naga Munchetty? I don’t think so

Our Chief Executive, Clare Pelham explains how an early morning interview with BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty ended up as headline grabbing nonsense in the tabloids. But, as she says, there's no such thing as bad news. And there was certainly no war over the cornflakes.

It is always a privilege to be able to join tv presenters in the studio to talk about issues that our beneficiaries face with their epilepsy. Particularly when it is morning tv and we know the nation is up and listening and we can raise awareness about epilepsy.

Thursday’s BBC Breakfast was no different. At 7.18 prompt, I was on the sofa opposite Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt to discuss the very real struggles that people with epilepsy are experiencing in getting their epilepsy medications.

Our Helpline has been flooded with calls from people who are stressed, anxious and often in tears, because their meds are running out and their local pharmacies can’t get hold of more supplies. One woman travelled 160 miles to get her medication. Another person spent £60 on a cab to visit 11 pharmacies to track down the right drugs.

I was only too happy to travel to Manchester to discuss the issue and ask just what the government and pharmas are doing about it. 

Stress as a trigger

Both Naga and Charlie understand epilepsy. Like me, they were visibly moved by the stories of Phil and Wendy who described the impact of medication shortages on their lives. The possibility of a breakthrough seizure if they couldn’t get the right drug. And the fear that the stress caused by worrying could, of itself, trigger a seizure.

So, imagine my shock and disbelief to see what was a very positive news piece, turned into a headline grabbing spat between myself and Naga in the tabloids later that day.’

“BBC Breakfast guest forced to apologise to Naga Munchetty after 'patronising' comment” read the headline in the Express.

“BBC Breakfast gets heated as Naga Munchetty calls guest 'patronising' live on air” said the Mirror.

And “BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty says 'that's patronising' as guest forced to apologise” shouted the Star – the Star – oh joy! One for the scrap book.

Trying to be helpful

But really! Naga helpfully had asked what people could do to help themselves when faced with a medication shortage. I replied that it was imperative for people to try not to get stressed but to stay calm so as not to put themselves at greater risk of a seizure.

Naga interrupted saying that while that may sound patronising, it wasn’t, and she wanted to amplify the messaging around seizures and stress and the very serious challenges faced by anyone with epilepsy.

Being very British, I piped in with a ‘sorry’. I think that as a nation we have two conversational defaults. One is to talk about the weather. The other is to apologise, particularly when we are not at fault. Naga rightly batted away my ‘sorry’ to drive home the important message that I was trying to convey.

The news piece was well received by viewers who took to social media to share their own experiences and to support our call for pharmas and the Department of Health to get a robust system in place to make sure no-one has to worry about medication supplies.

Headline grabbers

But were the tabloids so hard up for a story that they had to create a sofa spat about stress just to reel-in readers?

Across all the media we are truly grateful to some fine journalists who take time and effort to understand the complexities of epilepsy and to represent it fairly and accurately.

This rash of ridiculous headlines was just plain silly. But, as they say, there’s no such thing as bad news. And I hope that anyone who clicked on the stories hoping to read about Naga and myself at war over the cornflakes, will instead have discovered that there are far more important issues going on in the world. 

A shortage of medications for starters. Over to you Health Secretary for a proper response please.

More information

For the latest updates on medication shortages and what to do please see our medication updates.

If you are concerned about your medications, please call our helpline team.


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