Tuesday 20 November 2018

Junior doctor who took own life worked immoral hours, mum tells inquest

Dr Jessica Murphy
Dr Jessica Murphy
The late Dr Jessica Murphy
Pictured on her graduation day

THE mother of a junior doctor who took her own life described her daughter's working hours as "immoral" following an inquest into her death.

Dr Jessica Murphy (26) was found unconscious in her apartment at Exchange Hall in Tallaght, Dublin 24, on December 1 last year. She was later pronounced dead at Tallaght Hospital, where she was a junior doctor working in neurology.

Dublin Coroner's Court heard that she had taken an "overwhelming" overdose of the anti-depressant amitriptyline.

Her parents raised the issue of her working hours during the inquest, telling coroner Dr Brian Farrell that she worked 95 hours a week. Speaking following the completion of the inquest, Marian Murphy said that her daughter had been "put under too much pressure".

"I used to say to her that 'it was wrong, that it was immoral that you are working all those hours' because I could see that the pressure was building up in her. She would say: 'But what will happen to the patients if I don't?'," she said.

The inquest heard that Dr Murphy, who was originally from Ovens in Co Cork, had suffered from depression from the age of 17.

Her father, Matt Murphy, said that while the family were aware of it, she "kept her distance" from extended relatives because she did not want people to know about it. She also suffered from "severe insomnia", he said, but resisted seeing a doctor about her difficulties.

She began working as a junior doctor in Tallaght Hospital in July 2012. Mr Murphy said that his daughter was "very immersed" in medicine and enjoyed working at the hospital; however, she worked very long hours and this caused problems for her due to her insomnia.


"I believe she was self-prescribing sleeping tablets and possibly anti-depressants in the days before her death," he said.

Her parents travelled up to Dublin to check on her after becoming worried when they could not contact her and found her unconscious in bed. She went into cardiac arrest shortly after paramedics arrived on scene and was taken to Tallaght Hospital, where she was pronounced dead an hour later.

Gardai at the scene found a number of empty medication boxes as well as a letter of resignation to the hospital.

The Murphys told the court that their daughter's working hours contributed to her lack of sleep. Mrs Murphy said that she had told them that she didn't think she could go on so wrote the letter of resignation, but it was not submitted to the hospital.

Dr Farrell acknowledged the issues raised but said that because the HSE was not represented in court he was not in a position to address it.

The pathologist gave the cause of death as respiratory depression due to an overdose of amitriptyline.

Dr Farrell described the levels of the drug found in the toxicology screen as an "overwhelming overdose". He said that although there was no note or letter, the level of the drug was "excessively high" and that as a doctor she would have known this.

He returned a verdict that Dr Murphy took her own life.

Speaking following the inquest, Mrs Murphy welcomed recent moves to reduce working hours for junior doctors. She also said that the family was glad to see public figures speaking out about depression because her daughter had been afraid of the stigma attached.

"It is an illness like anything else and should be treated properly. It should not have any shame attached to it. We don't have any shame about it but it is a pity that Jess did," she said.

A spokeswoman for Tallaght Hospital said: "In noting the outcome of today's inquest, management and former colleagues again extend their deepest condolences to the family of the late Dr Jessica Murphy following her sad and untimely death."

By Gareth Naughton

Irish Independent

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