The ME Association writes to Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust about ‘discriminatory’ and ‘offensive’ wording in a job advert  

Dr Shepherd has written to Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust regarding their job advertisement for a Senior Clinical Psychologist. The advertisement and job description used ‘discriminatory' language when describing people with ME/CFS and Dr Shepherd is urging the Trust to amend it.

Dear XXX

Person Specification: Senior Clinical Psychologist

..maintaining a high degree of professionalism in the face of highly emotive or distressing problems, verbal abuse and the threat of physical abuse…”

I was surprised and very disappointed to see that this job advert for the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust ME/CFS service is using what can only be described as offensive language in relation to how people with ME/CFS may behave. Not surprisingly, it is also now attracting criticism on social media.

Having worked in hospital psychiatry I am well aware of the way in which patients can behave when they are distressed, confused or angry. This is something that any health professional who has direct contact with patients should already be well aware of and know how to deal with.

I would also accept that there may sometimes be a case for highlighting specific issues relating to a specialist referral service that caters for a condition where there are likely to be communication or behavioural issues.

However, I have worked with people who have ME/CFS for over 40 years – some of whom are upset and distressed by the lack of care and support they have been given by health professionals.  During this time I have never had to deal with anyone who has been physically abusive or aggressive. In fact, most people with ME/CFS are far too unwell to be physically aggressive.

Having looked at some other job adverts for NHS clinical psychologists it is clear that there is no compulsion to use this form of discriminatory wording from a template. So, I do not believe that it is necessary to use this sort of language in a job description relating to your ME/CFS referral service.  

To do so is only going to create further difficulties in the way that people with ME/CFS feel that they are likely to be viewed by health professionals if they are referred for specialist care – as has been highlighted in the DHSC Interim Delivery Plan for ME/CFS and in the social media responses to this advert.

As you presumably know, the DHSC Interim Delivery Plan for ME/CFS places great emphasis on the use of language and the way in which health professionals have failed to empathise with people with ME/CFS and acknowledge the disability that is caused by ME/CFS:

To quote from the Interim Delivery Plan:

“…many people with ME/CFS and their family members report experiencing dismissive attitudes, stigma and misconceptions from professionals about the nature and impact of ME/CFS on their life. This is not acceptable.

The impact of such attitudes can be profound for individuals and those close to them. We have heard that poor responses from some professionals have led to many people in the ME/CFS community feeling ashamed and let down by the public sector.

In some cases, people in the ME/CFS community have resolved to stay away from health and welfare services, had suicidal thoughts or even taken their own lives…”

Please could you urgently remove the offensive language in this advert as it places the communication blame on patients rather than health professionals.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Charles Shepherd,
Trustee and
Hon. Medical Adviser
to the ME Association.

Dr Charles Shepherd
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