Inquest into junior doctor death told of long hospital hours
Mother says daughter who took her own life worked 95 hours a week
Dr Jessica Murphy whose inquest has taken place at the Coroners Court on Store Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
The mother of a junior hospital doctor who took her own life has 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, on December 1st last year. She was later pronounced dead at Tallaght Hospital, where she was a junior doctor working in neurology. Dublin Coroner’s Court heard 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.
Following the completion of the inquest, Marian Murphy said 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, from Ovens in Co Cork, had suffered from depression from the age of 17.
Her father Matt Murphy said while the family was aware of it, she “kept her distance” from extended family because she did not want people to know about it. She had also suffered from “severe insomnia”, he said, but resisted seeing a doctor.
She began work in Tallaght Hospital in July 2012. Mr Murphy said 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.”
Her parents went to Dublin to check on her after they could not contact her and found her unconscious. She went into cardiac arrest shortly after paramedics arrived and was taken to Tallaght Hospital.
The Murphys told the court that their daughter’s working hours contributed to her lack of sleep. Ms Murphy said her daughter had told them that she didn’t think she could go on and so wrote a 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 them.
A 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”. 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.
Following the inquest, Ms Murphy welcomed recent moves to reduce working hours for junior doctors. She also said the family was glad to see public figures speaking out about depression because her daughter had been afraid of the stigma attached.