8 July 2009

Held in Residence 1 at the House of Lords, 8th July 2009


Countess of Mar (Chairman)

Christine Harrison – BRAME

Bill and Janice Kent – ReMEmber

Jane Colby – TYMES Trust

Peter Spencer – AfME

Charles Shepherd – MEA

Mary-Jane Willows – AYME





Tanya Harrison – BRAME

Sue Waddle – MERUK

Kathleen McCall – Invest in ME


Minutes of the Meeting held on 21 April 2009

The minutes of the meeting were agreed and signed by the Chairman.


Dr Esther Crawley, FRCPCH; PhD, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol and a Consultant Paediatrician, Chair of the CFS/ME Clinical  Research Network Collaborative (CCRNC) and Dr Hazel O’Dowd, MSc, D Clin Psych, Consultant Clinical Psychologist,   Clinical  Champion for CFS/ME services for Avon, Gloucester, Wiltshire and Somerset:


The Chairman introduced Dr Crawley and Dr O’Dowd and thanked them for coming to address the Group.


Dr Crawley gave a PowerPoint presentation a copy of which she kindly agreed to send to us after the meeting (see Presentations )


She explained that there were historical issues that had resulted in mistakes being made over patient participation. She had fought for patient/carer involvement and, by the time of the next CCRNC executive there will be 8 patient/carer representatives (4 from charities) on the Executive committee.


The National Outcomes Dataset (NOD) is an essential tool for providing evidence for further research into causation and treatments.


There are many strengths upon which the CCRNC intends to build. Openness and their recognition of the importance of working together has already attracted MRC, NIHR and Welcome support. The list of current research studies currently being carried out by members of the CCRNC was extensive and covered many medical specialisms.


Provision of services was a serious weakness, especially where children were concerned. Most children did not even get a diagnosis; there was no domiciliary provision for them as, indeed, there was not for most adults who are seriously affected. There was, historically, a lack of patient involvement.


Opportunities for progress were opening up with the ability to do large-scale research on cohorts of 3,000 patients. There was no other comparable large scale cohort in the world.


An open approach which looked at both good and bad results was essential if improvements in care, data collection and sharing, and the ability to apply political pressure were to be achieved.


Dr Crawley explained that the reputation the CFS/ME charities had for infighting was not particularly helpful and prevented research and clinical involvement.


The meeting was opened to questions. Janice Kent asked whether the Genome Wide Association Studies were linked to the genetic research conducted by DR Jonathan Kerr. Dr Crawley explained that his work involved gene expression – how the genes function. This generated hypotheses for further investigations. The results could be altered by effects secondary to the illness – by alcohol, drugs or exercise, for example. Genome-wide association studies involved scanning the DNA of a large cohort of patients to find common genetic variations associated with illnesses which would enable researchers to detect, treat and prevent diseases.


Charles Shepherd asked whether, in the light of the widespread opposition to the NICE Guidelines, charities that were opposed to them would be invited to become members or associates of the CCRNC executive. Dr Crawley acknowledged that, whilst the NICE Guidelines were flawed, they were a start. There was a need for all to work together to produce evidence to effect a change in the guidelines. In order to join the collaborative, charities would be expected to sign up to the evidence based approach. It would be a matter for discussion.  


Janice Kent asked about charities and groups that had been excluded from formal representations to the specialist clinics when they were being set up. She explained that they had a wealth of information and experience. Dr Crawley said that the CCRNC want to work with everyone concerned and ask Janice to write to her with the detail.


Christine Harrison asked about coverage by the CCRNC. She explained that the east of England had no specialist services at all. Dr Crawley agreed that provision for most areas was thin. The original budget had been for about £100,000 for each clinical team. To be assessed as cost effective, this would treat 100 patients. Some regions were dealing with 300 patients on this budget. There was a very real need for effective local services.


Christine asked about the grading of patient evidence as NICE had given the very large amount of evidence it received the lowest grading. Dr Crawley acknowledged that the method for grading was imperfect. Patient experience was  valuable and should inform high quality research, opening the door to further research.


Jane Colby asked about the rationale of treatments offered for different aetiologies of CFS/ME. Dr Crawley explained that with an illness like CFS/ME which is a heterogeneous disorder there were differences between what was observed clinically and what was shown biologically. She cited schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which were thought to be separate illnesses but are the same on genome wide association studies. There was a need for caution as not enough was known. In her clinics, patients were offered a variety of options which were individualised. If they made a wrong choice another option would be sought. There is currently no evidence of what will work for different subgroups. Jane asked about return to school. Dr Crawley said that she listened to her patients and helped them to achieve what they thought they could do, whether it was to improve their athletic performance, socialising or education, for example.


Peter Spencer commented on several of the points raised including analysis of data, measurements of effectiveness, benchmarking and people wanting to work with and learn from each other. There was a need to concentrate research resources. Greater patient involvement was key. There was no obligation on PCT’s to take the severely affected into account. The severely affected were particularly neglected; they had no voice and it was not surprising that they were particularly frustrated.


Charles Shepherd commented on the fact that those with the greatest need were given the lowest priority. Dr Crawley suggested a solution would be for them to use the NICE Guidelines which state that the severely affected have the right to have an immediate domiciliary visit and access to all services. If there were no specialists in their area they should ask for an out of area referral. These were costly and, if used enough, local services would be provided on cost grounds. It was not good practice to expect severely affected children and adults to travel long distances for consultations or for physicians to travel to make domiciliary visits. The situation was gradually improving, but effective outcomes were still a drop in the ocean compared with the unfulfilled need.


Dr O’Dowd spoke about training, for which she is responsible within the CCRNC. She accepted that it was not perfect. In 2003 she had to establish training for the first wave of teams with national training for the new clinicians. The DoH mandate was to improve diagnosis by GP’s. This was improving very slowly. Initially, when they set up training courses, only a few interested GP’s attended. It was difficult to attract those who were sceptical about CFS/ME. They then attached training to the end of other events that were more attractive to GP’s. There were also local GP training schemes happening in a piecemeal way. They wanted to get CFS/ME on the core curriculum for medical, physiotherapy and occupational therapy training. This was difficult, but there were some successes. She acknowledged that there were regional variations. In some places there was a high staff turnover for specialist services. They were developing the workshops. Additionally, over the next 2 years they hoped to develop an on-line training package that would be easily accessible. Working with the CCRNC had been beneficial as the trainers could have access to a large body of training material from the regions which cut down their workload.


Speaking personally, she said that there was much less scepticism about CFS/ME amongst the people she worked with. She had seen a marked change in her day to day dealings with doctors and other health care professionals. She felt that it was essential that the GP, district nurse and other members of the primary care team should always be involved in home visits. The most successful encounters were those that occurred on a one-to-one basis.


Margaret Mar asked how Dr O’Dowd would address the charge of a lack of balance between the psychological and the biomedical models of the illness at the April meeting of the CCRNC. She said that, after her experience of working with patients with other chronic conditions such as cancer and arthritis, she had been surprised to find that this was an issue with CFS/ME. She had not had any personal problems with it – in fact she found that sufferers have broader minds that many with other illnesses, possibly because they had been so neglected and forced to fend for themselves. The April conference had been full of variety, with lots of biology, but she accepted that they did not get it right. There was a problem in that many invited speakers, whose contributions were valuable, would not attend or would not agree to their papers being made public because they were wary of criticism.


Charles Shepherd asked whether the CCRNC had a view about causation, particularly the roll of deconditioning and abnormal illness behaviour. Dr O’Dowd said there was no overall view as there was no defined causation and the processes were not yet understood. This should not stop people being helpful. Patients understood well what affected them and any fitness programmes were developed jointly with the patient. Very few could be described as deconditioned.


Mary-Jane Willows commented that there was ‘no one voice’. If everyone did the same there would be no learning. Models of service were one of the factors in terms of outcomes.


Janice Kent asked about adverse effects from participation in the PACE trial. She described what had happened to a particular patient from her group, she was advised to obtain the patient’s permission and to feed back to the PACE triallists. It was essential that they were aware of bad results as well as good ones. Dr Crawley pointed out that all treatments have some side effects and that it was important to find those that worked for individual patients.


Christine Harrison asked whether CCRNC had a website. She commented on the lack of any services in East Anglia and asked whether they used patients in their training sessions. She also asked whether CFS/ME should be included in neurology training. There was no dedicated CCRNC website. As CFS/ME was bigger than just neurology, it was not thought appropriate to confine it to ‘one box’. The lack of GP services meant no home visits. As a result, there was an unknown number of patients who had fallen off the radar of NHS care. Unfortunately, there were not enough resources to cover every contingency and it was impossible to train GP’s who do not want to listen.


Peter Spencer echoed the need for training and commented on the variations in awareness of CFS/ME. He understood that Dr Miller of Liverpool University had developed a training module on CFS/ME for the Royal College of physicians. The workshops at the April conference had involved professional workshops and good interaction. Assumptions about the agenda for the conference were, unfortunately, based on assumptions about where speakers came from rather than facts based on what they actually said. AfME was associated with PACE and had been pleased by the very low drop-out rates. He agreed that adverse effects should be reported. There was a need to reconcile evidence of NHS providers with patient surveys on outcomes and to question the differences. In so far as GET was concerned, there was a need to look at the detailed evidence with clinicians. For example, he asked whether it was proper GET . Were randomised control trials appropriate for long-term, chronic conditions such as CFS/ME? He agreed that evidence based principles were essential.


Charles Shepherd asked whether there were exclusion criteria as he had a case where a patient had been excluded on grounds of obesity. Dr Crawley said there was no central policy. She screened her patients because there were other causes of fatigue and she had found one child with undiagnosed leukaemia. She could not judge decisions made by other clinicians.


Lightning Process:

Charles Shepherd had been made aware of a meeting which was to take place at University College London in conjunction with Great Ormond Street Hospital which appeared to promote the Lightning Process for patients with CFS/ME. As Dr Crawley knew something about the subject, she was asked to remain and to contribute to the discussion. Of particular concern was the promotion of the programme to vulnerable clinicians who had just started to practice. After some discussion about the pros and cons of the programme, it was agreed that Mary-Jane Willows would talk to the organisers on behalf of Forward-ME highlighting our concerns.


APPG Inquiry:

As this had been discussed at the APPG meeting that took place immediately before the Forward-ME meeting, it was agreed that there was not much more to be said, though there were concerns about delays and the incomplete coverage of prospective witnesses with questionnaires.


MRC Project:

Charles Shepherd reported that the latest information was in the MEA magazine and on their website.


Any Other Business:


Margaret Mar reported that she had had an interesting meeting with Dr Wendy Ewart, Director of Strategy for the MRC. She was interested to work with us and to meet the CCRNC team.


Following a letter from InvestinME in which the difficulties of working with charities and groups who were not of the same mind on particular matters, Margaret Mar had written to them asking whether they wished to continue with their membership of Forward-ME. This would be discussed further at the next meeting.


There being no further business, Margaret Mar thanked Dr Crawley and Dr O’Dowd for their very full presentations and for their candid responses to our questions. She hoped that they would both agree to continue to work with Forward-ME.


Date of Next Meeting:

To be advised.