Oxford NHS issues a flippant response on its ‘discriminatory’ use of language towards people with ME

A person with their head in the sand and Oxford NHS logo ME
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An Oxford NHS trust has caused further outrage with its response to complaints about a job advert for a clinical psychologist in a myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) clinic. This is because after the trust used offensive language in the advert, it’s simply dismissed concerns – clearly without thought for the patients and its affect on them.

Oxford NHS: hiring a psychologist for ‘psychotic’ ME patients

As the Canary previously reported, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is hiring a clinical psychologist. The role will be working in the ME service, and the renal and transplant medicine service. However, the advert for the job has caused controversy.

Oxford NHS said in the advert that the role would involved working with patients who have:

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.

It would also involve dealing with things:

including verbal abuse and risk of physical aggression (for example from people with behavioural problems or enduring mental illness).

On X (formerly Twitter) people living with ME were furious:

Read on...

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People’s anger at Oxford NHS stems from the fact that many medical professionals psychologised ME for years – and often still do. However, as the Canary has documented, ME is not psychological – it is a chronic, systemic neuroimmune disease. So, people living with ME were rightly upset.

‘Inaccurate, offensive’ towards people with ME

Charity the ME Association got its medical adviser Dr Charles Shepherd to write to Oxford NHS. 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.

Shepherd asked the trust to remove the language. So, what did it do? It essentially dismissed his concerns.

In response to the ME Association, consultant clinical neuropsychologist at Oxford Dr Simon Prangnell said:

We are very sorry if the wording included within the job description has caused offence. The job description is based on a nationally agreed template from NHS Employers as part of the Agenda for Change Framework.

The items you have highlighted are not specific to people with CFS / ME but instead are part of a general skill set that clinical psychologists are expected to have should these issues arise. In some situations psychologists are required to respond to urgent / emergency situations not necessarily within their usual service.

We will bear your comments in mind when advertising future roles, however, and consider better ways of framing these requirements.

Unnecessary ‘discriminatory wording’

As the Canary previously wrote, there was a possibility that Oxford NHS’s wording in the advert:

was an oversight – that someone copied and pasted a standard job description.

However, Dr Shepherd did not consider this a reasonable excuse. You can read his full response here. Shepherd wrote:

Having looked at some other job adverts for psychologists it is clear that there is no compulsion to use this form of discriminatory wording from the 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.

Shepherd also noted that:

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 suffering a psychotic episode or who was been physically aggressive. In fact, most people with ME/CFS are far too unwell to be physically aggressive.

He has escalated the complaint to professor Meghana Pandit, chief executive of the trust.

Little has changed

As the Canary previously wrote, one of the main proponents of the psychological model of ME is head of the department this job advert is for. So, for many people living with ME, it can claim all it wants that it was a “template” job description. This may well not wash with them.

Moreover, even if this was the case, it shows the lack of understanding, insight, and appreciation Oxford NHS has for this group of patients. No one with any understanding of ME – and how decades of systemic gaslighting, prejudice, and negligence has affected people living with it – would even consider using the language Oxford NHS did.

The job advert shows that despite the efforts of patient groups, other medical bodies, and campaigners, little has changed in the NHS for people living with ME.

Featured image via Sander van der Wel – Wikimedia, resized to 1910×1000 under licence CC BY-SA 2.0, and the NHS – screengrab

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  • Show Comments
    1. As an ME sufferer myself, I know full well the treatment dished out to us, by certain elements within, & without, the NHS.

      I’ve been suffering with ME for 30 years now, but the first 5 years were a total nightmare of being told it was all in my mind, then being constantly sent away without help or treatment of any kind.

      Then I was forced onto a health & exercise course that was totally wrong for me but, when I asked them to let me leave it, I was basically told that, if I didn’t complete the course, then it would be assumed that I was actually well, which would affect my Disability Benefits – leaving me penniless, but still too ill to work!

      So I kept pushing myself, until I collapsed – which ended up worsening my condition, to the point that I’m mostly bedbound now! 😡

      When I finally got an appointment with a Consultant Rheumatologist, he put me through a thorough raft of testing, to tick off all the obvious things, then the not so obvious , until he was left with just one diagnosis – ME!

      When he gave me the diagnoses, I cried my heart out – not really for being diagnosed this, but because, finally, someone believed me, and proved, through the negative in testing, that what was left, had to be ME!

      What I suffered with was a very physical thing, that IS real, and not ‘all in my head’!

      I’ve just taken part in a countrywide investigation into ME, called ‘DecodeME’, & I’m hoping that, by providing my DNA, that they’ll be able to make strides in finding out just why some people suffer with this terrible affliction – and, maybe, even hopefully, they may find, if not a cure, then something to ease this awful thing!

      It gives me hope that, at last, our plight is being taken seriously – even with such holdouts as those in Oxford!

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