Dr Betty Dowsett, 1920 – 2012 | consultant microbiologist who championed M.E. | updated 6 July 2012

June 21, 2012

Tributes to the memory of Dr Betty Dowsett have begun to flood the internet after news spread today of her death a week ago on June 14. Dr Dowsett, who was aged 91, had been living in a nursing home in Cambridge for some years.

Dr Dowsett collaborated with the likes of Dr John Richardson and Dr Melvin Ramsay in their various studies into M.E. and, with Professor Leslie Findley, she helped set up the National ME Centre in Oldchurch, Essex. In latter years, she also worked with Jane Colby, executive director of the Young ME Sufferers Trust, on a groundbreaking study into M.E. as the cause of major long-term sickness absence from school. This achieved major coverage in the national press.

The young Betty Scott was born in Newport, Gwent, and studied medicine at Edinburgh University. She worked as a general practitioner in London and then, after further studies, became a consultant microbiologist.

MEA medical adviser Dr Charles Shepherd paid this tribute to Dr Dowsett:

I first got to know Betty Dowsett through the late Dr Melvin Ramsay.

Betty had worked with Melvin on the infective side of ME, the role of enteroviral infection in particular, and was a tremendous source of knowledge and critical observation at the time.

In the early days of the ME Association, Betty was a constant source of advice and support.

In a clinical role she was an extremely caring and dedicated physician who continued to help patients and attend meetings well into her retirement.

Sadly, she suffered a steady deterioration in health in her later years and reached the point where she was no longer able to maintain an independent existence.

I will always remember Betty for her kindness, wit and sheer determination to help people with ME.

She will be sadly missed by both her patients and her medical colleagues.

Simon Lawrence, chairman of the 25% Group of severe ME sufferers, wrote:

She was one of the last remaining of the group of doctors from the Ramsay era who believed in ME as it really is, unlike today where we have all sorts of theories and scandalous activities that are truly harming people with ME. People are dying of ME and people are left paralysed by ME. Dr Betty Dowsett was someone who was truly upset about this and who worked day and night to help change the situation and even fought in the face of the establishment and other ME organisations that she felt were ‘dumbing down' ME.

In a world where we are so often left to suffer and be denigrated as ME sufferers, it was refreshing to meet someone who really did care and, at the same time, who never sought monetary gain from her services or some selfish recognition for doing what she felt was right.

Greg Crowhurst, whose wife Linda has had severe ME for many years, blogged:

We have just heard the incredibly sad news that Dr Betty Dowsett, one of the very few doctors who knew that ME was a genuine neurological disease, who actively validated patients in a sea of psychiatric fatigue nonsense, a doctor who worked alongside Dr Melvin Ramsay, who knew the truth, has died.

Betty Dowsett helped people, by protecting against the psychiatric untruth that has spread like wildfire throughout the UK since the 1980's, by accurately diagnosing them, by actively supporting them.

Not only did Betty help many people, for free, including Linda to get a proper Severe ME diagnosis, at a clinic she paid for herself, because the need was there, she also stayed in touch, supporting people in getting their benefits and providing ongoing medical advice.

Deeply committed to people with ME, Betty Dowsett was a genuinely good and honourable person who lived the doctor's oath to do no harm; much more than that she stood up for truth and in the process saved many lives – including Linda's.

Dr Betty Dowsett was a giant in the ME world; her loss is immeasurable and irreplaceable.

Professor Leslie Findley (in a post sent on June 26 to Co-Cure, the international M.E. and Fibromyalgia reading list, by Kent and Sussex ME Society chairman Colin Barton) wrote:

I first came into personal contact with Betty Dowsett during the 1980s, when her thriving ME Support Group amalgamated with my NHS neurology clinic at the old Harold Wood Hospital in Essex.

We both recognised that there was a paucity of care available in the NHS, for many patients with ME. This lead us to set up the National ME Centre as a diagnostic and support service, for those who were unable to receive, at that time, appropriate advice through NHS services.

Betty Dowsett and I shared a commonality of thought about some aspects of ME (you will note I do not use the word CFS on this occasion, out of respect for her, because she felt it was an inappropriate diagnostic term). What we shared was the conviction that even if a medical condition, such as ‘ME', was not understood in terms of underlying mechanisms, those with ‘ME' should be offered advice and support, based on the best evidence available at the time. In this regard Betty Dowsett was an example of best clinical practice.

Betty Dowsett carried out her own unique and extensive research into ME. I remember her impressive review of symptoms in a group of four hundred patients with ME, which drew my attention of how common neurological symptoms were part of the core phenomenology.

In addition, her work demonstrated the social impact of ME in young patients, and the effect this had on their education. This research was a beacon which catalysed changes in attitudes.

Unfortunately, in the modern era, most clinicians will only travel on a comfortable road. Betty Dowsett was an individual who chose her own path, if she felt it was in the interest of her patients. She was resistant to what she perceived as unfair criticisms, argued vociferously at every level for the welfare and interests of those who were unfortunate to suffer with ME.

I understand from others that Betty promised Dr Melvin Ramsey before his death, that she would continue his work. She kept that promise to the very end. I was proud to have known her, and be associated with her.

And, in Australia, Jodie Bassett of the Hummingbirds' Foundation for M.E, paid her own tribute by posting a collection of 15 articles by Dr Dowsett on her website.

The funeral will be held on Friday, June 29. The family have asked that, instead of sending flowers, people should make donations directly to the M.E. charity of their choice.

Cards should be sent to The Family of Betty Dowsett, c/o The Cottenham Court Nursing Home, High Street, Cottenham, Cambridge CB24 8SS (but do not send donations with your cards).

Please add your comments below if you wish.

7 thoughts on “Dr Betty Dowsett, 1920 – 2012 | consultant microbiologist who championed M.E. | updated 6 July 2012”

  1. I actually find it frightening that she was one of the last of the Ramsay era. The illness of the Ramsay era has been totally swept under the carpet, even though people are existing with it still. And they’re now supposed to believe they have the same illness—same cause— as young patients now!

  2. A wonderful friend of the M.E. ‘community’ everywhere.
    Dr Dowsett will be greatly missed.

  3. I am a little late picking up this sad news due to a slight relapse. I met Dr Dowsett once after discourse that led to her talking to the Staffordshire ME support group when I was it’s founding chair. Like all ME sufferers, I admired her greatly and agree that ‘the community’ has lost one of it’s greatest champions and heroes.

  4. Judith Wisdom sent this reaction to the MEA on Friday about the loss of Dr Dowsett and has now agreed that we may post her comments here:

    Dr. Dowsett’s writings (I live in the US) were critical for me to be awarded Social Security Disability for “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis” in 1986. My lawyer used the articles I found written by Dowsett, Behan, and several others. It was unheard of for SSDI to be awarded for M.E. but with case notes and Betty Dowsett’s work and other things we presented I was awarded without even going to the hearing, which the judge suggested I not go because I was so sick.

    Dr. Dowsett’s work, quite apart from her help with the above, always impressed me as excellent medically , where her humanity (never met her of course) worked together.

    I have been impoverished by being so ill for long, having lost my career, my earned income, my educational accomplishments, plus the expense of this illness when you try to get better. Just the cost of ice packs for pain, many supplements that eventually I had to reduce, etc. So I can’t join and thus can’t post my comment on Dr. Dowsett’s death.

    I really am quite saddened and hope the good docs in England and other countries stick with the wisdom of the name and definition of M.Eitis. “CFS” is three words that embody the U.S. docs who knew nothing about medical science, about the role of empiricism and basic science.

    The candle in my heart is lit for her.

    Judith Wisdom
    Philadelphia, PA

  5. Heartening to read Judith Wisdom’s words above and to see Prof Behan mentioned. I was diagnosed by Prof Behan – then Dr Behan – in early/mid eighties, and I wonder who are the new up and coming ‘Ramsayites’ in UK? I don’t think there are any. I think that particular core of medics has gone, in the UK anyway. All medical students should be given Dr Ramsay’s The Saga of Royal Free Disease as required reading.

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