An NHS trust is under fire from people living with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). It’s because the trust has not only managed to gaslight every single one of them – it also ignored best practice guidance in the first place.
The scandal revolves around the recruitment of a clinical psychologist. It’s not surprising, though, when you realise just who leads the psychological team recruiting for the role.
ME: not all in people’s heads
As I previously wrote for the Canary (and God knows I’ve written it more times than I care to remember):
Some people refer to ME as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It is a debilitating and poorly-treated chronic, systemic neuroimmune disease that affects every aspect of the patient’s lives. You can read more about ME symptoms here. The disease has been at the centre of various scandals for decades. These include medical professionals saying it was a psychological illness – that is, that it’s ‘all in people’s heads’.
Spoiler alert: ME is in no way psychological. You can read the endless articles I’ve written showing this fact here. Yet despite this, an NHS trust is hiring a shrink to deal with its “psychotic” and ‘abusive’ ME patients.
Oxford NHS: hiring a psychologist for a physical illness
Oxford University NHS Foundation Trust is hiring a Clinical Psychologist. They’ll be working in “the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis [ME] /Chronic Fatigue Syndrome [CFS] Service and Renal and Transplant Medicine service”.
According to the NHS Trust, the successful applicant:
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may require managing difficulties in understanding (such as cognitive deficits, or unconscious denial of psychological conflicts), or overcoming communication difficulties with patient who are hostile, antagonistic, highly anxious or psychotic.
Sorry, what? Did I misread that?
Clearly not, as the job description also says the applicant will have to deal with things:
including verbal abuse and risk of physical aggression (for example from people with behavioural problems or enduring mental illness).
Right, so it’s the patient that’s the problem here – as it’s them that will be “hostile” and ‘aggressive’. Gotcha.
‘Intervening’ with those ‘psychotic’ ME patients again
The job description also talks about what the clinical psychologist will be doing. This includes developing:
specialised plans for formal psychological intervention, based on the individual assessment and formulation, and making use of an informed judgment of evidence of treatment efficacy and psychological principles.
To undertake highly specialist psychological assessment and communicate a clinical opinion in order to inform and/or develop a case formulation to guide psychological or surgical intervention/consultation
All this is despite the latest National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for ME clearly stating that the only psychological interventions should be around:
the impact of symptoms on psychological, emotional and social wellbeing
It’s fairly clear that this is not what the Oxford NHS job advert is getting at – because a “psychological intervention” coupled with a patient who is “hostile”, “psychotic”, or lives with “behavioural problems” is not merely cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling. CBT is the only psychological intervention NICE still recommends, and it also mentions patients having access to counselling psychologists.
Oxford is clearly implying that ME patients are ill because, at least in part, their illness is psychosomatic (“unconscious denial of psychological conflicts”) – and this needs to be clinically psychologised out of them.
So, what has the response to this monstrosity been among patients groups?
ME Association: afternoon tea levels of politeness
The ME Association put out a statement from its medical adviser Dr Charles Shepherd. He said:
The way in which people with ME/CFS are described is inaccurate, offensive and unnecessary and I am sure that people with kidney disease who are awaiting a transplant would also find these descriptions offensive.
I hope that you will therefore urgently remove the offensive language in this advert that puts the communication blame on patients rather than health professionals.
He is, of course, correct – albeit rather too polite about the situation (he does work for a mainstream charity, so go figure).
What Oxford NHS has actually done is just intentionally gaslight an entire group of patients, while pouring scorn over the latest NICE guidelines, and ignoring a wealth of research which shows people with ME do not need primary psychological care in any way, shape or form. I’d like to think it was an oversight – that someone copied and pasted a standard job description.
Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that Oxford NHS did this – because leading their crank psychology team is one notorious professor.
Cranks to the left of them, crooks to the right – ME patients stuck in the middle
Michael Sharpe was one of the leading authors of the PACE Trial – a flawed, scientifically fraudulent study which said people with ME got better when doctors gave them CBT and graded exercise therapy (GET). They didn’t, of course. The trial and its authors essentially fiddled the results. However, these crooks maintain to this day that CBT and GET are the best treatments for ME.
As I previously wrote for the Canary, the Guardian recently fell for their pseudo-scientific baloney hook, line, and sinker. It published a hit piece by Sharpe and others criticising the new NICE guidelines. You’d be forgiven for thinking these medical professionals are the ones who need psychological interventions – as their narcissistic obsession with, and willful manipulation of, an illness that has got nothing to do with them borders on the sociopathic.
No surprise, then, that heading up the Oxford NHS psyche service that’s recruiting for another crank to join its ranks is – yes, you guessed it – professor Michael Sharpe. Sadly, this kind of situation was all too predictable.
I previously warned that the new NICE guidelines would still allow medical professionals to blame patients for their illnesses. You can read my full analysis here. Moreover, as a whole I said:
All these things I’ve mentioned combined means that ME will still be viewed as something partly psychosomatic and stall any breakthroughs in the disease. While the ‘think yourself better’ lobby is still dominant, the future of research, treatment and a cure looks bleak.
People with ME do NOT need psychologists
So, here we are. Nearly two years after NICE published its new guidelines, the same bastards who cemented ME as psychological, and condemned almost every patient to decades of medical neglect and abuse, are still getting away with it.
It goes without saying that Oxford NHS Trust should take the advert down and cancel the job. However, it won’t. It may tweak the wording as per Shepherd’s request – but so what? This will achieve nothing, as the team hiring the clinical psychologist clearly believe what they wrote.
The following also goes without saying: people living with ME don’t need psychological interventions.
What they need is to be believed by their families, friends, the medical profession, and society more broadly. They need money thrown into research, and full access to every pre-existing treatment, test, and trial available.
Then maybe – just maybe – after all this, people with ME may need counselling to help them deal with the years of severe trauma they’ve experienced at the hands of people like Sharpe and hospitals like Oxford.
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