‘Protestors have got it all wrong on ME' – Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Telegraph, Monday 29 August, 2011
INTENDED FOR PUBLICATION
Dr Max Pemberton does not understand the complex issues surrounding the need for biomedical research into ME/CFS – a condition which includes a wide range of clinical presentations – and has misrepresented the position of The ME Association.
The ME Association criticised the lack of government funded research into the underlying cause of ME/CFS and called for a change of policy at the Medical Research Council (MRC) The result, which Dr Pemberton ignores, was the setting up of an MRC Expert Group on ME/CFS research which went on to establish a list of biomedical research priorities, along with £1.5.million of ring fenced funding. Among the biomedical research priorities identified by the group are some of the possible causes and treatments – eg immune system dysfunction through viral infection, muscle (mitochondrial) pathology and cytokine inhibition – that Dr Pemberton has wrongly concluded are of no obvious value in this complex multisystem disease.
Despite all the money spent on ‘talking therapies' (ie cognitive behaviour therapy/CBT) and ‘supervised exercise' (ie graded exercise therapy/GET) the results just do not match his ‘gold standard' claims. In our survey of over 4000 people with ME/CFS, 55% reported that CBT made no difference and 19% reported that CBT made their condition worse. With GET, 56% reported it made their condition worse and 21% reported no change.
Having worked in hospital psychiatry I know that mental illness can be just as horrible as any physical illness and that physical and mental factors may well interact in long term conditions. However, The ME Association's criticism of psychiatric research has no relationship to a desire to stigmatise mental illness. We are simply pointing out that without biomedical research there will never be an effective form of treatment for an illness that is estimated to cost the country over £3 billion per annum in lost taxes, benefit payments and medical care.
Dr Charles Shepherd
Hon Medical Adviser, ME Association
Member of MRC Expert Group on ME/CFS Research
7 Apollo Office Court
Bucks MK18 4DF