Julie Hilling, MP for Bolton West

JulieHillingMPJulie Hilling, MP for Bolton West, has been given a national road safety award by the charity Brake and Direct Line Group for her campaign to improve awareness and diagnosis of sleep apnoea, a condition that puts drivers at risk of falling asleep at the wheel and causing devastating crashes.

Sleep apnoea disrupts sleep by causing the airways to repeatedly close, forcing the sufferer to wake up and gasp for breath, causing acute tiredness. It is thought to affect 1.5 million people in the UK, and is treatable but often not recognised [1] as sufferers often don't recall what's causing them to wake up repeatedly and feel tired.

Sufferers are up to seven times more likely to have road crashes [2], and therefore can pose a huge risk to their own and others' safety. Crashes caused by driver tiredness are thought to kill at least 300 people on UK roads every year [3].

Julie first became aware of sleep apnoea in early 2011, when she was a member of the Transport Select Committee, and was contacted by the parents of a young woman killed by a lorry driver who fell asleep at the wheel. She discovered that her constituency, Bolton West, has particularly high rates of sleep apnoea. Since then, she has continually worked to raise awareness of the issue in Parliament.

Over the past few years, Julie has attended many events about tackling sleep apnoea, including a visit to the Sleep Apnoea Clinic in London. She has kept the issue on the parliamentary agenda with questions to the Department of Health.

On 2 September 2014, Julie secured an adjournment debate on sleep apnoea in parliament. In the debate, Julie called for the Department of Health to appoint a body to improve services for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnoea, with screening provided in areas where the condition is widespread, and fast-tracked treatment for at-work drivers who are at particular risk.

As a result of the debate, Health Minister Norman Lamb MP will be taking up the issue of sleep apnoea with relevant organisations to see how the government can improve its diagnosis and care. Julie plans to keep pressing the government to make sure this happens, to help prevent tired driver crashes.

Read more about sleep apnoea, its symptoms, risks and treatment at www.brake.org.uk/sleepapnoea

Brake campaigns for greater awareness of sleep apnoea and the dangers of driving tired through its wake up! campaign. Tweet us: @Brakecharity, #WakeUp

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "Sleep apnoea is a huge issue for road safety, so we are pleased to give Julie this award for campaigning so persistently to improve its diagnosis and care. Hundreds of thousands of people may be unwittingly putting themselves and others at great risk on UK roads by driving with undiagnosed sleep apnoea – a condition that can be treated. We encourage Julie to keep the pressure up, and we hope the government will follow through on her recommendations, potentially making a vital contribution to reducing the horrific toll of tired driver crashes. We urge anyone who thinks they may suffer from the condition – which is often identifiable through disturbed sleep and snoring – to seek advice and treatment immediately. Whether you suffer from sleep apnoea or not, you should never get behind the wheel when tired."

Accepting her award, West Bolton MP Julie Hilling said: "Brake is a fantastic charity that does great work on road safety and I am honoured and delighted to have been chosen as their Parliamentarian of the Month. Sleep apnoea is a major problem for many of my constituents in Bolton West, causing many serious health issues as well as contributing to many road crashes. I will continue to work with Brake to ensure we get the services we need to help sleep apnoea suffers."