BMJ Rapid Response from Malcolm Hooper

Re:History of prejudice

Malcolm Hooper, Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry

University of Sunderland

The editor of the BMJ refers to the “unproductive standoff” in relation to the long-running disagreement about the nature of ME between the evidence-based biomedical school dating back to at least 1956 (with the WHO classifying ME as a neurological disorder in 1969) versus the ideology of the “psychosocial” school, whose vested interests in maintaining their idiosyncratic categorisation of ME as a mental disorder are a matter of public record 1.

That standoff includes the psychosocial school directing in 1992 that in patients with ME, the first duty of the doctor is to avoid legitimisation of symptoms 2; in 1994 ME was described by them as merely “a belief” 3; in 1996 they recommended that no investigations should be performed to confirm the diagnosis 4; in 1997 they referred to ME as a “pseudo-disease diagnosis” 5, and in 1999 they said about ME patients: “Those who cannot be fitted into a scheme of objective bodily illness yet refuse to be placed into and accept the stigma of mental illness remain the undeserving sick of our society and our health service” 6.

In his letter to the BMJ 7 Peter White et al dismiss key symptomatology of ME including ataxia, palpitations with cardiac arrhythmias and loss of thermostatic stability as being of dubious validity, yet those symptoms are specifically required for a diagnosis of ME as stipulated by 26 international experts from 13 countries who between them have 400 years experience of diagnosing over 50,000 patients 8.

These experts base their latest criteria on biomedical research and clinical experience of widespread inflammation and multisystemic neuropathology found in ME.

Although claiming to do so, Peter White et al do not study ME; they use their own Oxford criteria that select people with psychiatric disorders in which chronic fatigue is a feature 9.

White says their own criteria are easier to use and insists that they do not exclude those with ME simply because he believes ME to be a mental disorder.

Furthermore, in his letter to the BMJ Peter White complains that the criteria which define people with classic ME are too burdensome for doctors to use.

When did the careful assessment of sick people stop being part of the practice of medicine, especially when the disorder in question is known to be a complex multi-system disorder?



2. Medical Research Council Highlights of the CIBA Foundation Symposium on CFS, 12-14th May 1992, reference S 1528/1 (section entitled “The Treatment Process”), now held in the MRC secret files on ME at the National Archive, Kew, and closed not for the customary 30 years but for the unusually lengthy period of 73 years

3. “Microbes, Mental Illness, The Media and ME – The Construction of Disease”. Simon Wessely; 9th Eliot Slater Memorial Lecture, Institute of Psychiatry, 12th May 1994 (transcript and Wessely’s own working notes)

4. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Report of a Joint Working Group of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Psychiatrists and General Practitioners; Royal Society of Medicine (CR54), October 1996

5. “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Occupational Health”; A Mountstephen & M Sharpe; Occupational Medicine 1997:47:4:217-227

6. “ME. What do we know – real physical illness or all in the mind?” Lecture given in October 1999 by Michael Sharpe, hosted by the University of Strathclyde (transcript)

7. BMJ 2011:343:d4589

8. Journal of Internal Medicine: Accepted Article: doi:10.1111/j.1365- 2796.2011.02428.x

9. JRSM 1991:84:118-121

Competing interests: I am a long term advocate for people with ME and have published and lectured extensively on their plight and the injustices they and their carers have suffered as a conseqence of the deeply flawed ideological views of some psychiatrists and the Government agencies that have persistently denied or ignored the massive volume of peer-reviewed, published biomedical evidence.

Published 28 July 2011

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