Post Thirty Six. NICE Delay Publication Of New Guidelines.

Wednesday 18th August 2021 was meant to be a good day. It was meant to see the publication of the long awaited review of the NICE guidelines on the treatment of ME. It was supposed to be a new beginning. The beginning of a future in which people with ME would be taken seriously.

NICE are the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the English public body who provide guidance on the appropriate treatment and care of people with specific diseases and conditions. An English organisation, but they also have influence over the Scottish Good Practice Statement, the Scottish version of the NICE guidelines.

We are going to tear it up and start again. We won’t allow it to look the same.”

Professor Mark Baker, Director of the Centre for Guidelines speaking at a NICE stakeholder meeting for CG53: 16th January 2018.

When NICE announced that they were going to review the ME guidelines, I was sceptical, but as I learned more about the review process, and heard what the Director of the Centre for Guidelines had to say, I began to trust them. I trusted that they were going to do right by people with ME.

The old guidelines would unfortunately remain in place until the review was complete, but there was hope that the current recommended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Graded Exercise Therapy (CBT/GET) would eventually be scrapped.

These therapies are based on the now discredited theory that ME is not a physiological illness, but a psychiatric condition in which patients have ‘false illness beliefs’. We ‘believe’ we are unwell, we ‘believe’ that we have an intolerance to exertion, and as such we fear exercise and become deconditioned.

The idea behind the therapies is that CBT can cure us of our false illness beliefs, then we undertake a programme of GET to gradually increase our activity, and recover.

This was supposedly proven in the now discredited PACE Trial.

The PACE Trial is the basis on which the NHS ‘treat’ ME. It also impacts heavily on clinical policy abroad, both in terms of government funded healthcare and the private medical insurance industry. Due to the influence of the trial’s authors, funding of ME research in the UK has primarily been poured into psychiatry, rather than much needed biomedical research. Misconceptions about ME already existed, but the PACE Trial cemented these into the minds of the government, the medical establishment, the media and the general public.

The results of the trial were published in 2011. PACE found that patients being treated with CBT/GET over a six-month period improved by 60% while the recovery rate was 20%. However, thanks to a Freedom of Information request by a group of ME patients (which involved a drawn out five year legal battle with the PACE Trial authors spending £200,000 in an attempt to stop the data from being released) it came to light that the researchers changed midway through the trial what constituted as improved and recovered. Participants could end the trial being more unwell than when they started, yet they were still categorised as recovered. The authors basically manipulated the data to reach the conclusion that they wanted. When the authors were forced to release the raw data, new analysis found that patients actually only experienced a 20% improvement, and only 5% could be considered as recovered. Would a pharmaceutical intervention with such low odds be approved for use?

Uniquely for a clinical trial, and very strangely, the PACE Trial was partially funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the UK government department for sickness, disability and pension benefits. Is it a coincidence that the PACE Trial is often used to deny ME patients disability benefits?

It’s also worth noting that the trial used the Oxford criteria for the diagnosis of the participants, which is widely considered to be overly broad and it doesn’t include the cardinal symptom of ME, Post Exertional Malaise (PEM), an intolerance to exercise/exertion. Rather, it lists fatigue as the main symptom. Furthermore, research has shown that for every fifteen patients selected under the Oxford Criteria, fourteen will be false positives when compared to the more up-to-date and robust Canadian Consensus Criteria. So we don’t even know how many of the trial participants had ME to begin with.

Thankfully, the truth came out, and while the trial hasn’t yet been officially retracted, it is widely discredited. It’s even being taught at the University of California, Berkeley, as an example of how not to conduct a clinical trial. Very embarrassing for the trial’s authors!

I think that when the full details of the trial become known, it will be considered one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century.

Carol Monaghan MP speaking at the PACE Trial: People with ME, House of Commons Debate, 20th February 2018

As if the bad science wasn’t enough, it gets worse. It turns out that the PACE Trial authors failed to disclose a conflict of interest. The main investigators of the trial had financial and consulting relationships with disability insurance companies, advising them that rehabilitative therapies like CBT and GET could help ME claimants get off benefits and back to work. They gave the medical insurance industry a reason to withhold payouts – a condition of the payout would be that the ME patient undergoes a GET programme, which many refuse to do as they know it would make them worse. So, it’s not surprising why the trial authors have such a vested interest in keeping these therapies in the NICE guidelines.

The proponents of CBT/GET have nothing but contempt for ME patients. They believe us to be ‘malingerers’, that we perpetuate our false illness beliefs for ‘secondary gains’. Meaning, they think that we benefit from having a disability in terms of what we can gain from it: social security/benefits, equipment, accommodation, support, care and attention from family and friends, a good excuse to avoid things we don’t want to do, and my favourite, apparently we enjoy the ‘social mystique’!

Image of a slide from a presentation “Medically Unexplained Symptoms” – an approach to rehabilitation by Prof Lynne Turner-Stokes at Northwick Park Hospital. ME is listed as an example of one of these illnesses.

Now that I think about it, of course these gains make up for the loss of my career, having to sell my beautiful flat in Edinbugh, having to withdraw from my dream-come-true of spending four months living and working in Antarctica, the loss of friendships, the loss of income, my loss of self-worth and sense of purpose, the pain, the chronic migraines, the comorbidities, the loss of my fertility, the loss of my strength, fitness and stamina, not being able to participate in my hobbies, the food intolerances, the isolation, the loneliness, the anxiety, the fear, the depression, the suicidal ideation, the loss of my freedom and independence, the stigma, the ‘yuppie flu’ jokes, the intolerance, the ableism, the discrimination and the inaccessibility. Yep, I’m good with these, because never mind Antarctica, all I’ve ever wanted is to have my sole income be at the mercy of the grotesquely inhumane DWP, and don’t forget my ‘social mystique’.

One of the cardinal symptoms of ME, in fact, THE cardinal symptom of ME is exertion/exercise intolerance. This is backed up by science – people with ME have a pathological inability to produce energy on demand at a cellular level. Research has found immune cells taken from the blood of people with ME show clear signs of low energy production. Simply put, if exercise makes you feel better, then that in itself rules out an ME diagnosis.

CBT and other talking therapies can be helpful to support ME patients as they learn to cope with having a chronic illness, but in the context of the NICE guidelines, that is not the manner in which CBT is currently recommended. It also seems that GET may be an effective treatment for some conditions, but not only is it ineffective for people with ME, it’s dangerous.

For ME patients, GET is “extremely barbaric” and “government sponsored malpractice”.

Ron Davis, Professor of Biochemistry & Genetics and Director of the Stanford Genome Technology Center at Stanford University, and the Open Medicine Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board Director, speaking at an Emerge Australia research symposium.

Ron Davis speaking at an Emerge Australia research symposium. Full video can be found here.

There is a long history of GET harming people. So many stories around the world from adults and children whose ME worsened after GET. People who could walk pre-GET but required a wheelchair afterwards. People who previously had a life outside of their homes but became bedbound. People who knew GET was harming them but were forced through it in order to access benefits or medical insurance payouts. GET has forced young adults with no alternative support system into care homes for the elderly. GET has stripped people of what little quality of life they had. GET has caused Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). GET has caused permanent and severe disability. GET has resulted in loss of life. There’s no official record of this though. Unlike with pharmaceutical interventions, in which (in the UK) we can report side-effects through the Yellow Card Scheme, there is no official channel to report the harm caused by these therapies. So all the evidence is anecdotal, and for some, that’s not proof enough.

After decades of GET being forced upon ME patients, after all the harm that has been caused, we finally began to believe that things were going to change. In November 2020 NICE released the draft of the new guidelines, and the ME community were collectively delighted to find that GET was to be scrapped, and that CBT should only be used to help patients cope with having ME. This was monumentous news. ME patients in the UK were no longer going to be harmed by this dangerous practice, and it would hopefully also influence ME guidelines worldwide.

“Do not offer people with ME/CFS: any programme based on fixed incremental increases in physical activity or exercise, for example Graded Exercise Therapy.”

Excerpt from NICE Draft Guideline

“Only offer cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to people with ME/CFS who would like to use it to support them in managing their symptoms of ME/CFS and to reduce the psychological distress associated with having a chronic illness. Do not offer CBT as a treatment or cure for ME/CFS.”

Excerpt from NICE Draft Guideline

“Recognise that people with ME/CFS may have experienced prejudice and disbelief and feel stigmatised by people who do not understand their illness.”

Excerpt from NICE Draft Guideline

Click here for the full draft guidelines.

I think we were all fairly confident that this would make it into the final guidelines, and the date for publication was set for Wednesday 18th August 2021.

Then on Tuesday 17th August 2021, NICE released a statement…

NICE pauses publication of updated guideline on diagnosis and management of ME/CFS

NICE has today (17 August 2021) taken the decision to pause publication of its updated guideline on the diagnosis and management of myalgic encephalomyelitis (or encephalopathy)/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

The guideline recognises that ME/CFS is a complex, multi-system, chronic medical condition where there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing symptoms. The causes of ME/CFS are still poorly understood and because of this there are strong views around the management of this debilitating condition.

Because of issues raised during the pre-publication period with the final guideline, we need to take time to consider next steps. We will hold conversations with professional and patient stakeholder groups to do this. We need to do this so that the guideline is supported.

NICE has used its usual rigorous methodology and process in developing this guideline but despite the best efforts of the committee, that followed these to the letter to bring together the available evidence and the real, lived experience and testimony of people with ME/CFS, we have not been able to produce a guideline that is supported by all.

We want to thank everyone who has contributed to this guideline and particularly the committee and the patient groups who have worked so diligently. However, unless the recommendations in the guideline are supported and implemented by professionals and the NHS, people with ME/CFS may not get the care and help they need.

In order to have the desired impact, the recommendations must be supported by those who will implement them and NICE will now explore if this support can be achieved.

NICE 17 August 2021

We all knew that not all medical professionals were on board with the removal of CBT/GET. Not because they have ME patient’s interests at heart, but because there are some very influential people with a vested interest in keeping CBT/GET in the guidelines. Disappointingly it now appears that NICE are bowing down to pressure from within the medical establishment. This isn’t about science, or evidence, or medicine, it’s about politics, and perhaps even nepotism.

I knew there would be significant push back from certain parties. Before NICE released their statement on Tuesday I posted on Twitter…

How long until Wessely, Sharpe & co publicly push back against the new NICE guidelines? They’ll be desperately trying to save their professional reputations in the wake of NICE formally denouncing their life’s work on #MEcfs.

@PhoebsBo, Twitter, 17/08/21 2.06pm

I didn’t expect it to happen QUITE so quickly, I Tweeted this less than three hours later…

Well, right away it seems. I can’t think of any other reason why @NICEComms are now delaying the publication of the new guidelines, other than the interference of Wessely, Sharpe & co. NICE are not above corruption, it seems.

@PhoebsBo, Twitter, 17/08/21 4.44pm

Interestingly The Times reported on Tuesday about a planned backlash from within the medical establishment…

Disputed therapies for myalgic encephalomyelitis abandoned

The Times understands that leading medical bodies are considering refusing to endorse the guidance.”

Sean O’Neill, The Times Tuesday 17th August 2021
The Times, Sean O’Neill, Tuesday 17th August 2021 (because the above link is behind a paywall)

In my Tweets I mention Simon Wessely and Michael Sharpe, both of whom are amongst those with the vested interests.

Simon Wessely is a British Professor of Psychiatry at King’s College London. He helped develop the cognitive behavioural model of ME/CFS, a rehabilitation-based model in which unhelpful thoughts and avoidance behavior are believed to perpetuate the symptoms of ME/CFS, and he helped design the PACE Trial. Wessely believes ME/CFS to be a ‘general disorder of perception’.

Michael Sharpe is a British Professor of Psychological Medicine at St Cross College, Oxford University. Sharpe was author of the Oxford ME/CFS diagnostic criteria, he helped develop the cognitive behavioral model for ME/CFS and ‘medically unexplained symptoms’, and was one of the principal investigators of the PACE Trial, along with Peter White and Trudie Chalder.

Wessely, Sharpe, White and Chalder are some of the UK’s biggest CBT/GET proponents. They are responsible for CBT/GET being in the NICE guidelines to begin with, so of course they don’t want them to be scrapped. As well as screwing up their relationship (and cash flow) with the medical insurance industry, it would essentially mean that NICE were formally denouncing their life’s work on ME. It would leave their professional reputations in tatters.

Photograph of Simon Wessely, Michael Sharpe, Peter White and others attending a meeting on ‘Malingering and Illness Deception’ in 2001. This meeting was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the UK government department for sickness, disability and pension benefits, who also funded the PACE Trial.

It is believed, though I don’t know if confirmed, that that the medical establishments at the heart of the above mentioned backlash are the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Royal College of General Practitioners. Now, what is it about the RCGP, oh yes, their President is Dr Clare Gerada, wife of Simon Wessely.

It’s also interesting to note that just two weeks (or so) before the publication date three members of the NICE guideline review panel suddenly quit. They were known proponents of CBT/GET (the panel included professionals both for and against for the sake of balance), and seemingly they quit because they didn’t support the new guidelines. Of the three who quit, two of them work as clinical leads for ‘fatigue services’ in the UK and the third is a senior physiotherapist at another similar service. All of these services of course offer CBT/GET as treatments, and I’m guessing that if they are scrapped, these three will be out of a job. Is that not a huge conflict of interest?

It is my belief that it really doesn’t matter if not all doctors are behind the new guidelines. Presumably not all doctors were behind the last lot of guidelines, but NICE went ahead and published them. NICE are there to provide guidance to the NHS, they don’t take their orders from individual doctors or medical associations. They should not allow themselves to be dictated to by a handful of rotten doctors who don’t care a jot about ME patient welfare. So I say, publish the new guidelines anyway and THEN deal with those who refuse to implement them, perhaps by removing their privilege to practice medicine?

Some argue that by removing CBT/GET from the guidelines we’ll be left with nothing, no recommended treatments. GOOD! No treatment is better than a harmful treatment. How anyone is unable to grasp this is beyond me. Even without a treatment there is still plenty that NICE can do to guide the NHS. They can guide GPs on how they can best support their ME patients, how to manage symptoms, to advise their patients to rest and pace, how to support patients who are severe/very severe, when to offer home visits, how to handle hospital admissions, how to support disability benefit, Blue Badge and social care applications, etc. Removing CBT/GET doesn’t mean we’ll be left with a blank page where the guidelines used to be. Even if it did, that would be infinitely better than guidance that knowingly harms patients. The removal of CBT/GET will also pave the way for future funding of biomedical research, because the government will no longer be able to deny funding for research with the excuse that ME already has ‘treatments’.

I have so many questions rolling around my bewildered head…

  • Have NICE ever bowed down to pressure from medical professionals upon the pending release of guidelines for any other condition?
  • Why aren’t they standing behind their own procedures?
  • Do they not have confidence in their own investigative process?
  • Why spend over three years studying the evidence, come to a solid conclusion, only to back down the day before?
  • NICE previously reported that the evidence used to back up CBT/GET to be of “low” or “very low quality”, so why change their minds now?
  • What new evidence came to light in the hours before publication?
  • Are they saying that the last three years of work were a waste of time?
  • Are they worried that Wessely, Sharpe & co are going to take legal action, and they’re buying time to plan their defence?
  • Instead of coddling a group of tantruming ME sceptics, shouldn’t they focus on doing what is right by the ME community – a community who they acknowledge has historically experienced prejudice, disbelief and stigma by people who do not understand ME?
  • Why are they so overly concerned about pleasing all of the medical professionals at the expense of patients?
  • Why are ME patients not their priority?
  • Since when did the practitioner of the therapy trump the needs of the patient?
  • Why are the people who are responsible for harming us still being allowed to influence our healthcare?
  • Are NICE exceedingly weak, or are they corrupt?

The ME community need answers. NICE owe us transparency. So many ME patients gave their time and energy to inform the new guidelines, filling out questionnaires, sending evidence of harm caused by GET and encouraging others to do the same. In fact NICE received 4000 responses to their consultation, which they said was “significantly higher” than usual. As such they had to delay publication of the final guidance by several months to give themselves time to consider them. I think many of us appreciated that they were taking the process so seriously and we’ve waited patiently. But now, after all we’ve given, all we’ve been through, the trauma of having such a maligned illness, the gaslighting we’ve endured, we deserve the truth. They can’t leave us here, abandoned, dangling in limbo, having no idea what our future holds.

So many of us were ‘living’ for this moment. I have told myself previously, on occasions when I’ve felt suicidal, that I must wait until the NICE guidelines review. I mustn’t do anything permanent, not yet, not when there’s hope that attitudes towards ME may change. I had to hang on, at least until the publication of the new guidelines. I don’t feel the same now, but there are many who do. What do they do now? Keep waiting, indefinitely? ME patients have been waiting for change for decades, it has never happened, so why should we believe it ever will?

The ME community are currently devastated beyond belief. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt quite so dejected and let down, and by an organisation who told us they were going to help us. NICE gave us hope of a lifeline, then snatched it away in the final moments. Unfortunately this situation perfectly represents the way in which ME patients are used to being treated, with disdain, neglect, and a complete lack of care or respect.

NICE should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

#MEACTION PETITION

Please sign this #MEAction petition calling upon NICE to publish the finalised ME guideline in its current form.

SOME NOTABLE REACTIONS TO THE NICE STATEMENT

“For many years, campaigners for psycho-behavioral interventions for ME/CFS have accused patients who objected to the research as being anti-scientific zealots. It was always a ridiculous charge, but developments this week have made it clear, if there was any doubt, that these entitled bullies are the ones immune to the actual evidence…”

David Tuller, Virology Blog. Trial By Error: NICE Squares Off Against Royal College Bullies Over New ME/CFS Guidelines.

I feel frustrated and angry. The action of a small number of people who have persuaded the leadership at the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and possibly other Royal Colleges, to put pressure on NICE to reconsider what had already been agreed by the guideline committee, is reprehensible…

Dr Charles Shepherd, ME Association, Medical Advisor. The NICE Guideline ME/CFS: Personal Observations

@NICEComms has to decide whether it’s a science-based organisation, or whether it’s beholden to a lobby group that refuses to let go of dangerous and long-discredited quack “treatments” for ME/CFS. Its credibility hangs on the outcome.

George Monbiot, Journalist, Twitter

Decision of NICE to delay publication of new guidelines for management of ME is a massive blow to patients & charities who have campaigned for better treatment. Have the three years NICE has spent on this been wasted? ME community deserves so much better!

Carol Monaghan, MP, Twitter

Dear NICE, What new evidence was presented 24h before publication of the new ME/CFS Guidelines? Your draft guidelines said that quality of all 236 separate CBT/GET outcomes was “Low” or “Very Low”. To progress science & clinical care we need to see the evidence.

Professor Chris Ponting, Section Head at Biomedical Genomics, Chair of Medical Bioinformatics, and Principal Investigator at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Deputy Chair of the UK CFS/ME Research Collaborative and Principal Investigator for the DeCode ME/CFS Study, Twitter

“Unbelievable. A tiny cadre of powerful psychiatrists with their legacies on the line are stepping in to try to overturn scientific consensus and the advocacy of tens of thousands of ME patients. UK healthcare is just as broken as US healthcare, just in a different way.”

Jennifer Brea, Co-founder of #MEAction, Director of ME Film Documentary Unrest, Twitter

NICE has delayed publication of new treatment guidelines for ME after @thetimes revealed a planned backlash from the medical establishment. The only losers here are people with ME.”

Sean O’Neill, Journalist, Twitter

ME CHARITY STATEMENTS

The ME Association

Action For ME

#MEAction

Invest In ME Research

ME Research UK

Doctors With ME

IN THE NEWS

Please note, in an effort keep my stress levels down I haven’t read any of these articles, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy.

BBC Outrage at chronic fatigue syndrome advice update pause

The Guardian UK health standards body delays new ME guidance in therapy row

Huff Post ‘We Are In The Dark’: Despair For ME Patients As Doctors Can’t Agree On Treatment

The Canary A national health body seems set to throw millions of people under the bus

Daily Mail Health watchdog PAUSES publication of NHS guidelines for treating chronic fatigue syndrome amid dispute over right way to treat the condition

The Independent Health watchdog accused of ‘capitulating to vested interests’ over chronic fatigue as it delays new advice

The Telegraph Health watchdog pauses plans to scrap therapy and exercise as treatments for ME

The National Carol Monaghan hits out over delay to guidance for ME diagnosis and management

Post Twenty Two. Reblog. An Interview with Dr David Tuller.

A while ago, I can’t remember in which post, I said that from time to time I would be highlighting other articles about ME that I think are worth sharing. This is one of those.

Anil van der Zee is a professional ballet dancer, he was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in the north of Holland. He studied classical ballet at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague before working in several ballet companies in the Netherlands and Switzerland. In 2007 he became ill after contracting a viral infection, and never fully recovered. A few years later he was diagnosed with ME.

I can’t remember how I discovered Anil’s blog, I think on Twitter, or maybe one of his posts was shared in one of the ME Facebook groups that I’m in. But of all the ME blogs I’ve come across, his does stand out. He clearly does a huge amount of research, his posts are very well informed, and educational, for ME sufferers and non-sufferers alike.

In Anil’s most recent post, he interviews Dr David Tuller, an American journalist who has been instrumental in my understanding of the controversial PACE Trial (I wrote about the PACE Trial in Post Seventeen. The PACE Trial Scandal.) A few years before I became ill with ME, Tuller covered the PACE Trial results for The New York Times as health editor. However, he became concerned about the trial and wrote a further article regarding case definitions which resulted in an immediate response from the PACE Trial authors which resulted in him investigating the trial and its authors further after contact with others in the patient community. Tuller is sympathetic toward the cause of the ME patient community. In an article in 2015 he wrote: “In the course of my reporting, I’d realised that the disease was both devastating and widely misunderstood. People were really, really sick – some were homebound for months and years at a stretch. Yet their condition had been saddled with one of the most condescending names ever given a major illness.”

This interview by Anil offers an excellent overview of the current political climate that we, the people with ME, find ourselves in. He has kindly allowed me to share the post here, and it is my hope that it will aid my reader’s understanding of the horrific injustice that ME sufferers face. It makes me angry, and I want it to make you angry too. Angry people take action.

 

David Tuller and the (s)PACE cake eaters, by Anil van der Zee, Published December 26, 2017

In 2015 David Tuller, DrPH, a Senior Fellow in Public Health in Journalism at the Center of Global Public Health, School of Public Health at Berkeley University started writing 3 very detailed blogs about the flaws of the now infamous PACE-trial. The patient community has been advocating for years, if not decades against these types of trials of Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as well as Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) for ME in general as they seem to be doing more harm than good. Unfortunately they were mostly dismissed as militants and “vexatious”. They were not being heard or believed. That has dramatically changed since Dr. David Tuller started writing extensively about the subject. A real paradigm shift is happening and I’m beyond honored to have been able to meet him, photograph him and ask him a few questions.

Hi David, how are you? Thanks for letting me interview you. For the people who are not familiar with the subject, what is the PACE-trial and why is this trial such a big deal? 

The PACE trial was the largest study of “treatments” for what the investigators called chronic fatigue syndrome. The investigators claimed it “proved” that CBT and GET were effective treatments for the illness. Given these alleged findings, the trial has had an enormous impact on what is considered the standard of care in the U.K., the U.S, the Netherlands, and many other countries. Yet the study is so flawed, it includes so many violations of core principles of scientific research that its reported findings are completely meaningless.

What was the reason you decided to start writing about the PACE-trial unlike many of your journalist colleagues? Many are reluctant to write about ME in general.

I started reading the patients’ commentaries about PACE and realized that they were right about the flaws in the trial. I understood why others weren’t interested—it’s very confusing to figure the whole thing out. As a journalist, it’s great to have a topic others aren’t covering, and no one was writing about this. I felt if I started looking into it, I could have an impact on the debate.

Could you explain what the main issues were with the PACE-trial?

There were so many issues, so it’s hard to pick just one! Probably the biggest issue is that they have been very explicit in their protocol about how they planned to measure success. But they changed the main outcome measures after collecting data, and all the changes allowed them to report better results than had they stuck to their original methods from the protocol. Then they refused to provide the analyses that they originally promised to provide, so no one could tell what the results would have been had they not changed all their outcomes. When patients asked for these anonymous data, the investigators accused them of being “vexatious” and refused. They only did so after being ordered to do so by a legal tribunal.

To read the rest of the interview please follow this link to the original post, and while you’re there I’d recommend that you take a peek at his previous posts.

http://anilvanderzee.com/david-tuller-and-the-space-cake-eaters/

David Tuller’s Virology Blog. 

In the spring of 2017, Tuller successfully raised money in order to continue investigating and blogging about the PACE trial and and other issues related to ME. The funds raised went to the Center for Scientific Integrity who transferred them to the School of Public Health at University of California, Berkeley, which in turn created a position for Tuller to continue his investigative work.

To read his posts related to ME please follow this link. I’d suggest you scroll down and begin with his first post from 2011.

http://www.virology.ws/mecfs/

For a bit more background about Tuller, and for more of his articles, check out his entry in the MEpedia site.

http://me-pedia.org/wiki/David_Tuller

Post Seventeen. The PACE Trial Scandal.

I have been wanting to write about The PACE Trial for some time, about the background, the controversy and where we are at today. I have tried, but unlike my usual posts it is very technical, involves a lot of research and there’s a lot to cover. I just don’t have it in me, with my brain fog and inability to really concentrate, it’s just too much. Luckily, this morning, a UK newspaper published a really informative and accurate article on the very subject, basically, the journalist in question, Jerome Burne, has done my job for me.

This article was in the most surprising place, The Daily Mail Online. Not only did The Daily Mail publish a good article about ME, but they referred to the illness as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), this is actually quite ground breaking stuff. Most mainstream articles refer to it as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which isn’t officially inaccurate per se, but CFS is, on the whole, very misleading. For the uninformed, it implies that this illness is simply ‘fatigue’, it perpetuates the myth that we are ‘just tired’. I can’t think of any other major illnesses that are named after only one of their symptoms. A symptom of Multiple Sclerosis is fatigue, but it isn’t called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A symptom of Lung Cancer is coughing, but it isn’t called Chronic Coughing Syndrome. A symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease is memory loss, but it isn’t called Chronic Forgetfulness Syndrome. I think you get my point.

What’s worse than CFS, is when it is referred to as ‘Yuppie Flu’. This stems from a ME outbreak in the 1980’s, when it was seemingly mainly young professionals who became unwell with ME, and the term ‘Yuppie Flu’ was born. It is derisive, outdated and offensive, yet it is still frequently used in the reporting of ME. A recent article in The Telegraph actually used ‘Yuppie Flu’ in their headline. Thankfully they changed it shortly after publication, realising how offensive it was (after a lot of complaints from the ME community). You might think that these things shouldn’t be that important, that we are using our limited energy on the wrong battles. That we (people with ME) should be grateful for any scrap of exposure thrown our way. No. These things matter. Language matters. The words we speak have meaning, and impact. When reporting, in the science section of a national newspaper, on a serious health matter, the language used should not reduce the health matter in question to a joke.

The PACE Trial (short for “Pacing, graded Activity, and Cognitive behaviour therapy; a randomised Evaluation) is, essentially, a medical scandal, not dissimilar to the Andrew Wakefield MMR vaccine controversy. The PACE Trial has impacted on every single person with ME in the UK, and beyond. It is the basis on which the NHS ‘treat’ ME, and due to the influence of the trial’s authors, it impacts heavily on the funding of ME research, which in the UK, is poured into psychiatry, rather than much needed biomedical research. Misconceptions were already there, but The PACE Trial, and the psychiatrists connected to it have actively encouraged the media, the government, medical professionals and the general public to believe that ME is a psychological illness. That it is ‘all in our heads’, that we don’t have an intolerance to exertion but ‘false illness beliefs’, that we have somehow, collectively, all 17 million of us, falsely convinced ourselves that exertion is harmful. In fact anyone with ME could tell you exactly how exertion, both mental, emotional and physical impacts on our bodies. I really don’t understand how it could be ‘false illness beliefs’ that cause my shoulder joints and muscles in my arms to hurt, to the point of tears, after a twenty minute (hands free) phone call. The damage that The PACE Trial has done/is doing to us is immeasurable. The trial has been widely debunked, but until it is officially retracted, the damage will be ongoing, in actual fact, the damage will probably live even after it is retracted.

Anyway, back to the article by Jerome Burne. He did such a good job, and I’m incredibly grateful to him. It’s one of the best articles on this subject that I have read. I have copied the article below, with a link to the original article (just click on the headline to take you to The Daily Mail website). Throughout the article I have added some additional information, and some of my own thoughts, you’ll find these in brackets in blue text.

Why are doctors and patients still at war over M.E.? How the best treatment for the debilitating condition is one of the most bitterly contested areas in medicine

By Jerome Burne for The Daily Mail. 15 August 2017.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is a debilitating condition that can leave those affected bedridden for years. It’s linked with as many as 60 symptoms, the most common being a feeling of constant exhaustion — ‘like a dead battery’. (Yes this is a common symptom, but not the defining symptom. The defining symptom is post exertional malaise, an intolerance to exertion, which causes symptoms to flare after the activity. ‘Dead battery’ however is a good description of the exhaustion. The exhaustion is less ‘feeling tired’, but more a severe lack of energy, or severe weakness. I have experienced tiredness previous to having ME, I’ve had insomnia and sleepless nights for years. But it never caused me to be unable to lift my phone, my head, my toothbrush…)

The condition first reached mainstream consciousness in the Eighties following outbreaks in New York and Nevada. By then it was officially known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

For a time, it seemed everyone knew someone who was affected by it, and it was derisively dubbed ‘yuppie flu’ because it seemed typically to affect young professionals.

For years there’s been a long-running and bitter debate between doctors and patients about its cause and how to treat it.

The lack of a clear physical cause meant many doctors dismissed it as all in the mind. This infuriated patient groups who insisted it was all too real and the result of an infection or immune system failure.

Even now, when it is generally accepted that ME/CFS is a genuine condition, it remains one of the most angrily contested areas of medicine. But the battle lines are no longer drawn just between patients and doctors: the medical community itself is at loggerheads.

The issue: the best way to treat ME. This has huge significance for the estimated 500,000 people in Britain affected by it. The official NHS treatment for their condition is delivered by psychologists and involves a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET) which involves doing a little more each day. (Interesting to see the estimated figure as 500,000 rather than the usual 250,000. I learned recently that the ‘250,000’ figure was actually estimated around 30yrs ago, so of course this number has grown.) (As well as providing little benefit, GET is actually harmful and dangerous. This ‘treatment’ has caused many people with ME to experience a severe and often permanent worsening of their symptoms, and has, in some cases, lead to death.)

The idea is that doing regular aerobic exercise would help patients a lot, but that they are held back by ‘fear’ of activity: the CBT is meant to overcome this. (Using CBT to alleviate our alleged ‘fear’ of activity is of course nonsense. I did however find CBT useful in terms of helping me to cope with this huge life-altering diagnosis.)

Many patients and doctors claimed this combination provided little if any benefit.
This dispute has now broken out into the public arena in an extraordinary fashion. Two weeks ago the Journal of Health Psychology published what was effectively an attack on the official NHS treatment. (You can find the journal online here ‘Journal of Health Psychology, Volume 22, Issue 9, August 2017. Special Issue: The PACE Trial‘)

Three editors resigned from the journal in protest at this stance. In a leaked email, one of the resigners was described as a ‘disgusting old fat neo-liberal hypocrite’ and an ‘ol’ sleazebag’ by an editor who supported the journal’s approach.

But the insults swing the other way, too — recently, a scientist described patients critical of the CBT approach as ‘borderline psychopaths’ and likened them to animal rights activists. (Remember, these are professional scientists who are referring to the very people they claim to be ‘working for’ as ‘borderline psychopaths’, simply for questioning their claims.)

The row is about a trial published in The Lancet in 2011 that helped form the official guidelines on treating the condition. This was a large trial, called PACE, involving 641 patients, costing £5 million. It was paid for by the Government and carried out by psychologists at Queen Mary University in London. (Interestingly the trial was also part funded by the The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the only clinical trial they have ever funded, I believe. Could it be that The PACE Trial was less ‘science’ but more a cost cutting exercise for the government? With the aim of reducing benefit and insurance claims? It is in fact not at all uncommon for the DWP to turn down disability benefit applications from people with ME who refuse CBT and GET…)

PACE found that patients being treated with the combination treatment — 14 sessions with a therapist over a six-month period — improved by 60 per cent, while the ‘recovery rate’ (which implied a ‘cure’) was 20 per cent. (It is worth noting here that the researchers changed, throughout the trial, what constituted as ‘improved’ and ‘recovered’, because they weren’t getting the results they wanted. Participants could end the trial being more unwell than when they started, yet they were still categorised as ‘recovered’. Also, they used the Oxford Criteria for diagnosis of the participants, as opposed to the Canadian Consensus Criteria. The Oxford Criteria is widely considered to be overly broad. It does not include the defining symptom of ME, post exertional malaise, rather, it lists ‘fatigue’ as the main symptom. So, did the participants actually have ME to begin with?)

“For every 15 patients selected under Oxford criteria, 14 will be false positives when compared to Canadian Consensus Criteria” me-pedia.org

(There is now an even more up to date clinical criteria for ME. The ME International Consensus Criteria, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 2011. This is an update of the Canadian Consensus Criteria, which was published in 2003. You can read more about The ME International Consensus Criteria in my blog post, Post Seven. Symptoms)

But a new analysis of the data has suggested that patients experience just a 20 per cent improvement, and only 5 per cent are classed as recovered. (Would a pharmaceutical drug with such low odds for improvement or recovery be approved as an NHS treatment?)

‘This has cast serious doubts on the recovery rates being claimed,’ adds Dr Charles Shepherd, honorary medical adviser to the charity the ME Association (Dr Shepherd was also a member of the Chief Medical Officer’s Working Group on ME/CFS and the Medical Research Council’s Expert Group on ME/CFS research).

‘The trust of patients has been lost. PACE needs to be withdrawn.’

In fact, patient campaigners have been claiming for years that the psychological approach is profoundly wrong because it implies the problem is the way the patient thinks about it. They consider that they’re suffering from a physical disorder.

The re-analysis of the PACE data has set the cat among the pigeons. A challenge to evidence supporting a NICE-approved treatment is unusual, not least because the data was only made available after a protracted battle by patients.

Ever since its publication in The Lancet, the PACE trial had been questioned by patient groups. They wanted to see all the data the trial had gathered to check the statistics.

For five years patient advocates and some doctors sent letters and Freedom of Information requests to the researchers — Professor Peter White (of Queen Mary University of London), Professor Michael Sharpe (Oxford University) and Professor Trudie Chalder (King’s College London) — without success.

Grounds for refusal included risk of revealing patient identities and claiming the demands to hand over the data were vexatious or a form of harassment.

Indeed, one expert witness for the researchers drew parallels between these ME/CFS ‘activists’ and animal rights groups, suggesting there was a serious risk of violence to researchers if the data was released. But then the Information Commissioner’s Office became involved and the university was ordered to cough up the data. It refused and then spent more than £200,000 to have the order dismissed.

This was rejected by a tribunal (as for the claim of threats being made, under cross-questioning the expert witness admitted there hadn’t been any). (The witness lied about the ME community threatening them. There have been no threats.)

When the trial data was finally re-analysed and checked by two independent academics, Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley and Professor Bruce Levine from the Department of Biostatistics at Columbia University, it ‘revealed that the study contained little evidence that CBT and graded exercise add anything to standard medical care in terms of patient recovery’, according to Professor Levin.

This was backed by Jonathan Edwards, an emeritus professor of connective tissue medicine at University College London.

‘The results of the re-analysis shows that the call for access to the PACE data for independent analysis was justified,’ he said. ‘It confirms that this study failed to provide reliable evidence for useful, sustained benefit from either CBT or graded exercise therapy.’

Sir Simon Wessely, Regius professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, has long been identified with the psychological approach. When he was asked about the data re-analysis last year, he was quoted as saying: ‘OK folks, nothing to see here, move along please.’ (He is unable, or unwilling, to back up his data, or to provide any evidence.)

He added that patients did improve and that the treatments were moderately effective. (Again, he has nothing to back up his claims.)

ARTHRITIS DRUGS MIGHT HELP

The Journal of Health Psychology gave the original researchers the right to respond to the criticisms — they said they stood firmly by their findings, and that ‘the PACE trial… along with other studies provide patients, healthcare professionals and commissioners with the best evidence that both CBT and GET are safe and effective treatments’.

But what about the ‘biological’ theories of ME/CFS and the new research published recently suggesting a link with raised levels of molecules linked to inflammation?
Commenting, Dr Alan Carson, reader in neuropsychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, said what wasn’t clear is whether a higher level of these molecules ‘necessarily make you feel worse’.

He added: ‘It’s highly unlikely it will lead to a blood test any time soon.’

Yet Professor Edwards, who has described the PACE trial as ‘poorly designed, poorly executed and inappropriately interpreted’ believes that studies are needed.

‘Here in the UK we’ve spent far too much on the psychological aspect,’ he says.

‘Understanding the biology is what’s going to lead to an effective treatment.’

Professor Edwards, a rheumatologist, has previously found that patients with ME/CFS as well as rheumatoid arthritis reported great improvement when they were treated with the powerful anti-inflammatory drugs used for their arthritis. A trial of this is now under way. (This drug is called Rituximab. It is used to treat some autoimmune diseases and some types of cancer)

Meanwhile, PACE continues to have support among psychiatrists and psychologists. It seems unlikely that it will be withdrawn, and so the struggle between the doctors and patients continues.

UPDATE: COULD IT BE CAUSED BY INFLAMMATION?

At the heart of the issue is what causes ME. Patient activists and some doctors consider it a physical disorder.

This ‘biological’ theory appeared to be reinforced by recent research from Stanford University in the U.S. that identified a new set of ‘messenger’ molecules in the blood that are part of the immune system and behave differently in ME/CFS patients. (You can read about it here ‘Researchers identify biomarkers associated with chronic fatigue syndrome severity, Stanford Medicine News Center‘)

New, sophisticated equipment allowed a team to run a very detailed analysis of the blood of 192 patients, comparing it with nearly 400 healthy people. They found that immune system messenger molecules (cytokines) that trigger inflammation and produce flu-like symptoms were higher in patients with the most severe symptoms.

An independent expert, Gordon Broderick, a systems biologist at Rochester General Hospital in New York, commented that it was a ‘tremendous step forward’.

~~~

Again, I’d like to thank Jerome Burne for writing this article. It means a great deal, and it brings me hope when ME is reported in the mainstream media in such a fair, balanced, accurate, informative and sympathetic manner. More articles like this will help to change the general perception of ME and hopefully result in this debilitating illness to be taken more seriously.

 

Further Reading

PACE Trial, MEpedia

The Making of the PACE Scandal, Centre For Welfare Reform

The PACE Trial: The Making of a Medical Scandal, The ME Association

‘No confidence’: Charities reject NICE ‘no update’ proposal for ME/CFS guideline, VADA Magazine

Getting It Wrong On Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, The New York Times

Bad science misled millions with chronic fatigue syndrome. Here’s how we fought back, STAT News

How a study about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was doctored, adding to pain and stigma, The Conversation

James Coyne “lays waste” to PACE trial in Edinburgh, Phoenix Rising

 

Post Thirteen. My Mum’s Birthday/Fundraising Party for Invest In ME.

My mum shares her birthday with ME Awareness Day and last night she held a birthday/fundraising party for Invest In ME. Instead of presents and/or cards she asked for only donations. She still has a few promises of donations to come, but it’s looking like she will have raised over £1000 in total! Incredible!

I attended the party and I don’t know how I did it but I managed to stay for three hours and had multiple conversations with my mum’s friends, mainly answering questions about how ME affects me. It was a lovely evening and a welcome distraction from the terrible week I’ve had.

I knew it was more than I could safely manage. Throughout the evening I knew I should escape to a quiet room to lie down for a rest, but I really didn’t want to drag myself away from the party. I miss out on so much already, I couldn’t bear to miss out on the fun going on around me. So I unadvisedly pushed through.

Today I woke up with the worst ‘hangover’ of my life. That’s the best way to describe it. Before you say anything…I only drank water last night, I can’t drink alcohol since I’ve had ME. It took me over two hours after waking up this morning to be able to move and get out of bed, despite desperately needing to pee. I had to crawl to the bathroom, and then back to bed to rest from the overexertion of going to the bathroom. I wanted to brush my teeth but I couldn’t hold my arm up. After another hour of lying down I was able to come upstairs to prepare coffee and something to eat. My head is absolutely pounding, my sinuses are throbbing, my throat hurts, my limbs are heavy, my muscles are aching, there’s an imaginary elephant sitting on each of my shoulders weighing me down, my skin is sore, I’m nauseous, my tonsil wounds are hurting again, it hurts to swallow, I feel faint and dizzy, I’m weak, I feel like I have a temperature (ok, I just checked it and I do have a temperature) and my brain is absolute mush. I remember feeling like this in the past, but it was easier to cope with when it was self-inflicted through an excess of fun and alcohol. All it took on this occasion was three hours of pleasant conversation the evening before.

This was the first party I’ve attended since 2014, and the first situation I’ve put myself into that I knew would involve constant interaction and conversation with people. I knew it was a risk. This is the worst payback I’ve experienced for quite a while. It’s made me realise that up until last night, I’ve actually been fairly good at pacing and managing my activity to avoid PEM (post exertional malaise). I hope in one evening I haven’t undone any progress I may have made so far. When this bout of payback is over will I go back to how I was doing pre-party? Or is this the beginning of a new phase in my illness? I have no idea. But this is something I have to think about with every single decision I make. I have to weigh up the pros and cons of everything I do. Will the boost to my mental and emotional health outweigh the potential negative and possible long lasting impact on my physical health? I don’t know. It’s impossible to know. I go into everything I do blindly.

While I’m punishing myself for my stupidity and desire to be ‘normal’ for an evening, I can at least take comfort in the fact that the charity, Invest In ME, who campaign for biomedical research into ME, will soon have over £1000 to invest into ME research. This is on top of the money raised by my friends and family in the past few weeks. I have great people in my life who are going out of their way to raise awareness of ME and who are raising money for much needed research.

I’m also quite sure that after this bout of payback fades, that I’ll only have fond memories of a lovely evening. My mum still lives in the house I grew up in, it’s a wonderful and beautiful Victorian house full of lovely memories. It was really lovely last night to see the house and garden so alive with people, chatter and music. The children played on the garden wall and surrounding trees, my niece waited on the guests in style with her bow-tie and flowery Dr Martens. The food was excellent, the wine was flowing (not in my direction obviously) and the live music was a lovely touch. And above all I’m so touched by the incredible generosity of my mum’s friends who donated their time and money, and my wonderful mum, who donated her birthday to help find a cure for ME.