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Epilepsy Society pays tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan MP

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Nicola Swanborough

Epilepsy Society pays tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan MP

It is with great sadness that we have learnt that Dame Cheryl Gillan DBE MP passed away over the Easter weekend.

Dame Cheryl Gillan

Cheryl has been MP for Chesham and Amersham for almost 30 years and was the longest serving Conservative female MP in Parliament.

But most significantly for us, she has been a great friend and supporter of the Epilepsy Society and has been a loyal and much valued Vice President of the charity.

Champion of people with epilepsy

Cheryl has championed the cause of people with epilepsy in parliament, raising the profile of a condition that is often poorly understood and misrepresented. Over many years she has served as Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Epilepsy .

In recent years Cheryl has been very supportive of our campaign to tackle malicious tweeting by trolls who attempt to trigger seizures in people with epilepsy through flashing images. Last autumn, Cheryl hosted an online Breakfast Meeting for the Epilepsy Society, with the Law Commission and DCMS to highlight the need for the government to recognise this type of abuse in its Online Harms bill.

Breakfast meeting Zoom
Dame Cheryl Gillan hosted a Breakfast meeting to tackle internet trolls

Flu vaccine

At the outbreak of the pandemic, Cheryl challenged Health Secretary Matt Hancock in parliament over why people with epilepsy are not automatically entitled to a free flu vaccine; and over many years she has been relentless in raising the profile of families whose lives have been devastated by the harmful effects of the epilepsy drug, sodium valproate.

Cheryl has taken every opportunity to draw parliament’s attention, with pride, to Epilepsy Society as a centre of excellence which sits within her constituency but which transforms lives throughout the UK and around the world.

Visiting Epilepsy Society

She was a frequent visitor to the Society’s Research Centre in Chalfont St Peter – often accompanied by her dog - where she took a keen interest in our world-leading genomic research and was always anxious to learn about progress in our understanding of the genetic contribution to epilepsy.

Dame Cheryl Gillan visits Epilepsy Society's research centre

Dame Cheryl Gillan meets researchers at Epilepsy Society

Greatly missed

Clare Pelham, Chief Executive at the Epilepsy Society said: “As an MP and politician, Cheryl has had an eminent career, not least of which was her time as Secretary of State for Wales following previous Ministerial responsibilities for schools, employment, women and equal opportunities at the Department for Education and Employment.

“But she has also been an incredibly hard working and loyal constituency MP who knows and understands her constituents and who has served them with admirable commitment and passion.

“Cheryl had an incredible understanding of what it is like to live with epilepsy, whether as a controlled condition which has minimal impact on a person’s life beyond the challenge of everyday stigma; or as a complex condition which requires 24-hour care. Cheryl got people and we have been fortunate to have always been able to call upon her support.

“She will be greatly missed by all of us at the Epilepsy Society and all our thoughts are with her family and friends at this very sad time.” 

BBC Three Counties Radio

Clare Pelham joins Oliver Heald, MP for North East Hertfordshire, in paying tribute to Dame Cheryl on BBC Three Counties Radio (3:13:50). Available for 29 days from 6 April 2021

Clare Pelham pays tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan in the Bucks Free Press.