Big Pharma and the NHS: a 746% price hike for a disabled person’s vital medication leaves her without it

The one tablet in this article’s main picture used to cost 35p. It now costs £2.66. So, for just five-days worth of medication (eight tablets a day) the cost is now over £112. It was £15. That’s £672 a month – from £90. Welcome to the corrupt world of ‘Big Pharma’ and its extortion of the NHS.

First off, a plea for help

Sadly, this massive price rise means that me and my partner can no longer afford them. As her treatment is not available on the NHS, it is via a private GP – hence we have to pay. I’m a full time carer to my partner, as well as working as much as I can while we have to claim Universal Credit – essentially because I cannot work the hours I need to, to get us off benefits while I have to care for her as well.

We now need help with the cost of finishing this course of treatment – which will be £2,600 at current prices for the next four months.

If you can help, please donate via PayPal at http://www.paypal.me/NicolaCJeffery

The true cost of medication

Valaciclovir is an antiviral drug, most commonly used to treat the herpes family of viruses. It’s what my partner, Nicola Jeffery, is currently taking to treat her myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly known as ME. It’s for this which the cost has rocketed.

Price rises for medicines under the NHS are not unusual. This is because pharmaceutical companies often increase their prices, which then has a knock on effect on the health service’s costs. As The Lowdown noted:

in 2017/18 the overall drugs cost at list price in the NHS, before any discounts, was £18.2 billion.

 

This is an increase of 4.6% from £17.4 billion in 2016/17 and an increase of 39.6% from in 2010/11.

Branded (patented) medicines are allegedly “protected” by a voluntary code of conduct between big pharma and the NHS. This stipulates that companies cannot put the price of medicines up by more than 2%. If they do, then they have to pay the NHS the difference back. In Nic’s case, the branded version of valaciclovir is Valtrex, of which the cost is already high.

But there’s a catch with this price control: it doesn’t cover generic medication.

What price control?

As The Lowdown also noted:

Generic medicines, those that are not protected by patents, are not covered by any price control scheme. UK governments have relied on market competition to control the prices of these products. This has worked to a large extent, generic versions of best-selling branded products are sometimes 90% cheaper than the original branded products.

In Nic’s case, this is valaciclovir, which has several different manufacturers. The Lowdown continued:

There has been a problem, however, with relying on market competition. Although a product may be old and produced as a generic, it will not necessarily have many or in some cases any competitors on the market. Some manufacturers took advantage of this situation and hiked the price of a generic product year-on-year knowing that there could be no comeback.

 

An article in Pharmaphorum reported that dramatic price increases included the anti-epilepsy drug phenytoin sodium, the price of which was reportedly increased by up to 2,600%.

It is this brazen and nefarious profiteering which has hit valaciclovir.

Rampant profiteering

In short, there is a supply issue at present – most likely due to the coronavirus pandemic and knock-on supply issues from China (along with some political tensions, too) Knowing that, the big pharma manufacturers have forced the price of it up – as I said, by 746%. And it’s the same profiteering which allowed prices of paracetamol to shoot up at the start of the pandemic – along with valaciclovir’s also beginning to head skywards.

What is unusual is that most patients wouldn’t notice, because of the fixed price of an NHS prescription. But because Nic’s treatment is private, we’ve been directly hit by this croniest of corporate capitalist phenomenons. And her valaciclovir is probably the most important medicine she currently takes.

15 conditions

She lives with 15 different illnesses and conditions. You can read more about that here. But sadly the UK’s public health service doesn’t treat many of these. Some of the ones it either doesn’t deal with, or doesn’t treat correctly, are ME and:

Nic during a CSF leak

It’s the ME which we decided to tackle first. Please note that this is not chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which in ours and other people’s opinions is a separate illness.

She’s been under the care of the amazing Dr Sarah Myhill for nearly a year and a half. It’s been a long battle: changing diet (from a corporate, glycolysis-based, Western carb and sugar-heavy one to a paleo-keto, fat burning regime); taking a huge amount of tablets and oral solutions (a mixture of vitamins, minerals, hormone replacements, metabolic enhancers, amino acids, enzymes and herbal remedies) and full-time clinical monitoring from me – including a daily medical diary, blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, SpO² levels and perfusion indices.

The first baby steps

As I previously wrote:

We are confident this regime will resolve Nic’s ME. We’re loathed to go into detail until the course is over, but suffice to say the signs so far have been good.

 

What we can say is that she was living with polycystic ovary syndrome, first diagnosed in 2009. But since starting Dr Myhill’s regime, this has been completely cured. Effectively, the regime for ME has also cured this other illness.

 

The NHS, meanwhile, says polycystic ovary syndrome “cannot be cured”. We think we know why it has with Nic, and it is absolutely unbelievable when compared to what the NHS offers for those living with it.

We can also now say that Dr Myhill has already resolved some of Nic’s underlying problems. For example, much of her dysautonomia has gone.

Making progress

Her core temperature, which used to fluctuate by up to 1.7°c a day, has now stabilised to a 0.3-0.5°c variation. Bowel function is now regulated – before she could go at least three days without movement; now, she’s almost regular as clockwork every morning. The seizures which plague her have reduced in frequency. Her blood pressure, which used to be constantly hypotensive, is rising. She now sweats normally (before, barely sweating at all). Muscle cramps have gone, and lingering pain from physical exertion (for example, lumbar pain after being upright all day or walking) no longer lasts into the following day. And her bouts of insomnia and disregulation of the wake/sleep cycle have all but vanished.

Central to all this has been Dr Myhill’s vast treatment plan. But crucially, so has the valaciclovir.

Studies into valaciclovir

Several studies (one spanning six years) have shown it to be effective in treating ME. But the criteria was fairly strict: there had to be a proven history of infection with Epstein Barr virus (EBV, more commonly known as glandular fever), cytomegalovirus (CMV) or one of the herpes viruses. This was done by showing antibodies in a person’s blood. But we went further than that.

Nic has had a bone marrow aspirate and a trephine biopsy, which showed EBV and CMV immunoglobulins present (EBV in the highest concentration). We also know she has had either HHV6 or HHV7 (as she had pityriasis rosea as a child).

Further to this, she had advanced flow cytometry testing (one of only a handful of people with ME in the world to have this done), which showed her body was on a three times higher immune response than the general population; specifically reacting to a virus. But crucially, there was no viral pathology present in her blood stream. In other words, her body was trying to fight a virus that seemingly wasn’t there.

There’s no clear reason why valaciclovir works in ME. But I have a theory: I think the EDS caused her ME.

My theory? EDS causes ME

All cells have a protective surrounding environment. This is called the extracellular matrix. It is made up of a lot of collagen. Because Nicola’s collagen is faulty, this has made her extracellular matrix weak.

When she has had viral infections, the viral genomes (the part of viruses which are their genetic coding bit) don’t just attack the major parts of her body. Because of the weak collagen, they have been able to get right into her cells and into their nuclei more easily than in most people. Here, they reproduce their genome constantly.

When a cell is infected with a virus, it warns the body by producing specific molecules (called class I major histocompatibility complex proteins, or MHC class 1). Cells release these onto their surface. The immune system knows there’s a problem because these MCH’s have viral material in them. So, the body can fight the virus.

It’s all about the collagen

But with Nicola, because of her weak collagen the MCH’s cells’ release is faulty (it’s all about peptides, which are amino acids made up of collagen). The immune system is not sure if there’s a virus present in her cells. So, it fights the virus in the obvious places like the bloodstream. But it doesn’t kill it in the nuclei of her cells. Here, it keeps replicating and therefore never leaves – hence the body’s constant immune response, and hence the symptoms of ME like post-exertional malaise (PEM). A similar theory is already being recognised in coronavirus patients, who still haven’t recovered from the virus months later.

Studies have already shown [pdf] or questioned the high prevalence of ME in EDS/connective tissue disorder patients. Anecdotally, speak to people in both communities and the dual diagnosis appears to be common. And I think my hypothesis above would go some way to explaining it. I’m more than happy to discuss this with anyone: I’m not a virologist, immunologist or microbiologist. I am a deeply concerned partner first, and a nosy journalist second.

This theory is where the valaciclovir would come in, and why it would work. But probably only in Nic’s and other EDS patient’s cases with Dr Myhill’s regime in full play.

A complex solution

The active ingredient of valaciclovir is aciclovir. As ScienceDirect noted:

The mechanism of antiviral activity consists of its [aciclovir’s] transformation to triphosphate and subsequent inhibition of viral DNA synthesis. Its action is highly selective. Acyclovir diffuses into the cell infected by a virus and phosphorylates thymidine kinase of herpes simplex to a monophosphate. Uninfected cells do not use acyclovir as a substrate. The monophosphate is subsequently transformed to a diphosphate, and then a triphosphate, which inhibits viral DNA polymerase, as well as viral DNA, where it acts in the process of breaking the chain, thus preventing further elongation of the DNA chains and correspondingly, replication of the DNA virus.

In short, acicilovir stops viruses replicating. On the face of it, this shouldn’t work in Nic – because it doesn’t solve the problem of her body not knowing that the virus is deep in her cells in the first place. But it will work, for several reasons: not least because of Dr Myhill’s full regime putting Nic’s body and immune system in the best health possible, and also because the dose is so high (4g a day is getting towards the dose used in post-operative patients at risk of CMV) that her body is being flooded with aciclovir. Standard doses are one to two grams, but only for a matter of days. Nic has been on valaciclovir for eight months, now.

When most ME patients try and fail with antivirals, their bodies are already on a weak footing: diet is probably Western, carb and sugar heavy and poor; energy delivery mechanisms are weak; deficiencies high; other illnesses (like mycotoxicosis) have probably been left undiagnosed, and overall their bodies are under strain. Dr Myhill’s regime (yes, of 82 tablets and nine oral solutions a day at one point) is torturous. But it’s already yielded results – and we believe it is what will make the valaciclovir work.

MEDS 1

Unlike most ME patients, whose illness and severity of symptoms is based around clinical presentation, we’ll be able to prove whether Dr Myhill and the valaciclovir have worked at the end of the process – as Nic will repeat the advanced flow cytometry testing.

So, we need to finish the course of it. And unfortunately, there is no substitute.

No other option

The other available treatment is straight aciclovir. This is infinitely less expensive, currently listed on the NHS British National Formulary (BNF) page as being around £4.50 a box. But it’s not as straightforward as that.

Valaciclovir has a mean bioavailability of around 54.2%. This means that for every tablet taken, the body absorbs 54.2%. So, on Nic’s current dose of 4g a day, she gets 2.1g of aciclovir. But the straight tablet form of aciclovir has a mean bioavailability of 17.5%. This means, by my calculations, she’d need to take around 12g a day to get the some dose as valaciclovir.

That is impossible to administer; not least because her kidneys would not cope with having to process that level of chemical. Moreover with aciclovir, as the dose increases the bioavailability decreases. So, she’d have to spread a minimum 15 tablets (based on 800mg per tablet) out across the day; one every hour.

In May, we got her down to 56 tablets a day, after she was on 82 for six months. Having to add another 7 into the mix (8 of her current tablets are valaciclovir) and spread them out hourly is not fair on her. But overall, switching to aciclovir would be pointless – and ultimately jeopardise her treatment; a clinical plan that’s been in place for nearly a year and a half.

Please help

I refuse to let Nic falter at that point. It’s has been the hardest one and a half years of both our lives, in many respects. And to have got this far only to be forced to give up – not through fault of our own, but because of a system that would happily see us fail in the first place – is not happening.

So please – if you can help towards the cost of Nic finishing her treatment, then donate if you can via http://www.paypal.me/NicolaCJeffery

Thank you for reading and for the anticipated support.

ECLg55oX4AAOsUM

 

Our house has poisoned our son. We now need your help to treat him.

My partner’s son has just been diagnosed with one of the same diseases she has. It’s come directly from our social housing, through no fault of our own.

So, we’re having to pay for his treatment. And sadly we need your help to try and get him well, as the NHS don’t deal with it. While this illness is not even recognised in the UK, it could potentially affect millions of people.

Rampant chronic illness

My partner Nicola Jeffery is chronically ill and disabled. In short, she lives with:

Many of these are not recognised on the NHS. So, we’ve had to see private medical professionals to get her treated. Some of this was funded by my mother. Other aspects, like the ME, have been paid for by crowdfunding and donations from friends and the public. We are very grateful for this. You can read more about that, here.

But we now have confirmation that Nic’s son (called Lil Man in this article) lives with one of the diseases she does. The problem is, again, the only treatment available for it is via the private sector.

Please continue reading below to find out more about this. But if you can help with the £1,500 cost of Lil Man’s treatment you can donate via:

http://www.paypal.me/NicolaCJeffery

Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites given off by mould and fungi. They cause disease. As the World Health Organisation (WHO) wrote [pdf]:

Mycotoxicoses are diseases caused by mycotoxins, i.e. secondary metabolites of moulds. Although they occur more frequently in areas with a hot and humid climate, favourable for the growth of moulds, they can also be found in temperate zones.

Exposure to mycotoxins is mostly by ingestion, but also occurs by the dermal and inhalation routes. Mycotoxicoses often remain unrecognised by medical professionals, except when large numbers of people are involved.

There’s a lot of literature on illness caused by eating mycotoxins. 25% of our agricultural products are infected with them. Interestingly the UK government recognises this. There are laws in place surrounding the levels that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) permits in products. It’s website notes that:

Mycotoxins can cause a variety of adverse health effects in humans including cancer (some are genotoxic), kidney and liver damage, gastrointestinal disturbances, reproductive disorders or suppression of the immune system. Antitoxins are the most harmful type of mycotoxin, they can potentially cause cancer or problems with digestion, reproduction or the immune system.

But what’s not even recognised in the UK is the impact of mycotoxins from damp and mould in buildings. And potentially, this could be making millions of people ill. Yet no one wants to talk about it.

The health risks

As a US government research site noted, symptoms of Mycotoxicosis include, but aren’t limited to:

fatigue, neurocognitive symptoms, myalgia, arthralgia, headache, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety, depression, irritability, gastrointestinal problems, tremors, balance disturbance, palpitations, vasculitis, angioedema, and autonomic nervous system dysfunction.

Specific conditions include:

infections and mycoses, chronic and fungal rhinosinusitis, IgE-mediated sensitivity and asthma, other hypersensitivity reactions, pulmonary inflammatory disease, immune suppression and modulation, autoimmune disorders, mitochondrial toxicity, carcinogenicity, renal toxicity, neurotoxicity, and DNA adducts to nuclear and mitochondrial DNA causing mutations. A significant mechanism of injury includes oxidative stress…

A health dead end

Yet when you look for Mycotoxicosis on the NHS website, it doesn’t exist. The nearest thing is Aspergillosis, which is a condition caused by mould but only related to the pulmonary system.

Nic was already under the care of Dr Sarah Myhill. As part of her investigations into Nic’s health she wanted her to have mycotoxins testing.

But, this wasn’t straightforward. Testing for mycotoxins has to be done in the US, with a private UK laboratory acting as a middle man. So, we got the testing done, her results were positive, and she had a six month course of treatment.

We always wanted Lil Man testing as well. So, last month he did the same thing.

US testing results

These were Nic’s results:

Myco perameters.png

Nic Myxo.png

To break them down:

  • Aflatoxins are from the mould fungi family Aspergillus. Among other things like immunosuppression, they have been linked to an increased risk of liver cancer. Dr Myhill told us it was very unusual to see Aflatoxins present, as they generally are only present in contaminated food in developing and Asian countries.
  • Ochratoxin A is from the fungal species Aspergillus or Penicillium. It has been linked to cognitive dysfunction and depression, kidney problems and immunotoxicity, among other things.
  • Mycophenolic Acid [pdf, p3] is from the fungal species Penicillium. It is usually found in conjunction with Ochratoxin A. It can cause immunosuppression.
  • Citrinin is also from the Penicillium fungi family. It’s effects are similar to Ochratoxin A.

So, these were Lil Man’s results:

 

Lil Man myco

As a reference point, a Turkish study found the mean level of Ochratoxin A in the sample population to be just over nine ng/g creatinine. At this level, the study pointed to potential health risks, including oxidative stress. So, both Nic’s and Lil Man’s were significantly higher.

In some respects, Nic’s was more concerning. This is because she already lives with so many underlying illnesses and conditions, that the mycotoxins were just making her so-called ‘viral load’ even heavier. The Ochratoxin A was the most problematic.

Her son’s result was expected. But we didn’t think it would be as high as it was (25.97 for Ochratoxin A versus Nic’s 13.44). Literally, at the top end of the lab’s testing scale. Why was it expected? Because we guessed his bedroom had effectively been poisoning both of them.

Flooding

Around seven years ago there was a flood from the neighbouring property into Lil Man’s bedroom. Our housing association came and tidied up the plaster work, but did not dry the room out. A while later, Nicola noticed the floor boards sinking. So, she called the housing association again.

A contractor lifted up one area and all the floor joists were rotten. But they merely put MDF over one small area, and did nothing else. So, effectively the damp from the flood was left untreated.

Now, there is no visible damp in Lil Man’s room. Meanwhile, there is in our bathroom. So, you’d be forgiven for thinking all was well.

But as part of our investigations into Nic’s health, we went to University College London asking if their civil engineering department could do some tests. At this point we knew her mycotoxins results and wanted to know why the Ochratoxin A was so high; we suspected Lil Man’s bedroom. Because Ochratoxin A specifically comes from water damaged buildings. Also, the Penicillium family of fungi is also commonly found in water damaged buildings. So, two of Nic’s other mycotoxins were explained by this.

Groundbreaking testing

The excellent Dr Yasemin Aktas happily obliged with our request. Her team came and did what’s called a Mycometer survey; something they pioneered. The testing has been approved and is used by the Danish government. Essentially, it measures the levels of mycotoxins in the air and on surfaces.

The team did the whole of our upstairs. And the results were as we suspected: Lil Man’s bedroom was the highest; the readings almost being in the red (toxic) zone. The level’s lowered the further you got away from the wall where the flood was; that is, his bedroom, then the toilet, then the bathroom, then the master bedroom:

So, thanks to both Dr Myhill’s testing and UCL’s survey, we can say very confidently that Lil Man’s bedroom has made both him and Nic ill.

A 13-year-old with chronic illness

His symptoms fit with this. He has:

  • Repeated bouts of upset stomachs, juxtaposed with difficulty going to the toilet.
  • Repeated chest infections after colds, with coughs sometimes lasting for months.
  • Short term memory issues which are very marked; difficulty concentrating and some functional disruption.
  • Far more fatigue than should be witnessed in someone his age.
  • Skin issues with repeated inflammation, coupled with excessive discharge in his eyes.

We have to get this sorted for him. But because the NHS doesn’t recognise it, we’ll have to treat him privately.

We know straight off this is going to cost, in total, around £1,500. This includes medication and repeated testing at the end of the six month course of treatment.

We’re currently on Universal Credit, with me caring full time for Nic while doing as much work as I can to try and get us off benefits. So – we need people’s help to pay for Lil Man’s treatment.

If you can help towards the £1,500 to try and get him better, please donate via PayPal:

http://www.paypal.me/NicolaCJeffery

But it’s not just Nic and Lil Man who are affected.

Millions at risk

Estimates at the number of renters living in damp or mouldy homes vary. But a study by pest control company Rentokil estimated that 5.8 million people lived in rented (private or social) homes with “damp or condensation” problems. But other figures put it even higher.

On the lower side of estimates, and property investigations service CIT said that 12% of social housing had been subject to a complaint about damp or mould. That around 600,000 homes in the UK. Or, to put it another way, at least one in 10 UK residents (just over one million) who live in social housing have problems with damp, mould and/or condensation. Speaking from personal experience, this is probably a vast underestimate.

In private renting, Shelter estimated [pdf, p20] that 38%, or around 3.42 million, private renters had problems with damp.

So, either way, over 4.4 million renters live in damp or mouldy homes. But, this may be the tip of the iceberg. Because testing for damp and mould in the UK does not factor in mycotoxins; hence UCL’s research is so groundbreaking.

Housing associations: washing their hands?

Mould and fungi give off what’s known as hyphal fragments. These fine bits of the organism travel around the environment, and are one of the sources of mycotoxicosis via inhalation and dermal routes. But even when these hyphal fragments die, they and the mycotoxins in them still remain dangerous.

The point being – Lil Man’s water damaged bedroom came back as ‘dry’, therefore safe and not a problem. This was when our housing association’s surveyor came round and tested it. But UCL’s testing told a different story. Because in layman’s terms the ghosts of the mould and fungi are still there; constantly being moved around from the walls and floor cavities they inhabit.

All this means our housing association will not deal with the issue. We’ve been through all its processes and have reached a dead end. So, we’re still living in a property that is effectively toxic. Our next course of action is to take this to the Housing Ombudsman and politicians to try and get help for us. But we also intend to affect change up and down the country.

A public health crisis

Mycotoxicosis is probably rampant across the UK. But because the NHS, housing associations and government don’t even recognise it, people’s symptoms are probably dismissed as mental health, diet-related or due to their lifestyles. We don’t have enough fingers to count the number of people on our estate alone who have far worse damp and mould than us; have chronic illness but yet are not getting any medical or social support.

There is a public health crisis across the country. Yet no one will admit that it exists.

Spain: the only option when the DWP and NHS abandon you

This is a story we believe many people are living through, right now.

It is sadly a desperate plea for financial help. But it’s more than that. It’s a statement on the position that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and NHS leave hundreds, possibly thousands, of people across the UK in. This is just one example.

My partner has to go to Spain for life changing surgery. But it costs. The initial amount needed to begin the process is £8,000. 

You can donate via PayPal at http://www.paypal.me/NicolaCJeffery

Read below to find out why we’re having to do this.

I wouldn’t wish chronic ill health on anyone. But if people could spend a day in my partner Nicola Jeffery’s body, then maybe the world would be a very different place.

She lives with 16 different illnesses and conditions. You can read more about that here. But sadly the UK’s public health service doesn’t treat many of these. Some of the ones it either doesn’t deal with, or doesn’t treat correctly, are:

I gave up work full time to care for her. Since then, the DWP awarded her just the standard daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). You can read more about that here. We sent them a Mandatory Reconsideration. It’s been 11 weeks and counting for its decision. My claim for Carer’s Allowance has now been seven weeks, complicated by the fact I am self-employed. Because of the waiting on these we cannot apply for any housing support. We are now in a very dire situation with no seeming way out.

A ‘thank you’

We’ve been fundraising to continue Nic’s ME treatment under the care of the amazing Dr Sarah Myhill.

We raised enough to buy the majority of her ME treatment for six months, so thank you. This cost just over £1,800 in the end.

This is just about it, excluding the £500 worth of antivirals and £400 worth of mycotoxins treatment (because both are prescription only):

MEDS 1

As an example, this is the cost of six months worth of thyroid and adrenal hormone replacements:

MEDS 2

I note some people have said on Twitter ‘why can’t the NHS provide these?’. Firstly, because the NHS repeatedly claimed she had no thyroid issues. This, after proper evaluation, was not the case. Secondly, if it did diagnose it, Nic would be given chemical substitutes, which we do not believe in. The hormone replacements she is on are totally natural (bovine and porcine) – and her blood work has shown they have had the same effect as their chemical counterparts.

We are confident this regime will resolve Nic’s ME. We’re loathed to go into detail until the course is over, but suffice to say the signs so far have been good.

What we can say is that she was living with polycystic ovary syndrome, first diagnosed in 2009. But since starting Dr Myhill’s regime, this has been completely cured. Effectively, the regime for ME has also cured this other illness.

The NHS, meanwhile, says polycystic ovary syndrome “cannot be cured”. We think we know why it has with Nic, and it is absolutely unbelievable when compared to what the NHS offers for those living with it.

Sadly, running parallel to this has been a severe deterioration in her EDS-related CCI and AAI.

‘Rare’, or ‘rarely diagnosed’?

We first discovered Nic was living with these in March. I’d suspected as such, as she was symptomatic of them. So we had a £1,250 upright MRI (not available on the NHS and the only way to properly diagnose the conditions). Then, a Spanish surgeon interpreted the results and confirmed both.

As MEpedia describes, CCI is:

a pathological condition of increased mobility at the craniocervical junction, the area where the skull meets the spine. In CCI the ligamentous connections of the craniocervical junction can be stretched, weakened or ruptured. This can lead to compression of the brain stem, upper spinal cord, or cerebellum and result in myelopathy, neck pain and a range of other symptoms.

 

CCI usually develops as a result of physical trauma such as a car accident, an inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or a congenital disorder such as Down’s syndrome. More recently, physicians have reported an increased prevalence of CCI in patients with hereditary disorders of connective tissue such as… (EDS).

AAI is kind of the same. The main difference between the two is which vertebrae are involved.

In short with both, the ligaments holding her top four vertebrae (the cervical junction) in place are floppy due to the EDS. So, the vertebrae are not held in place properly. They move in ways in which they shouldn’t, interfering with many of the nerves that come out of that part of the spine.

We know she has a 42° overshoot of her C1 over her C2 (her top two vertebrae). It should only be 35°. She has brain stem compression due to odontoid displacement (a piece of bone that allows the C1 to pivot on the C2). We know that her facet joints sublax (partially dislocate) on turning her head to both sides.

The effects of her CCI and AAI are systemic and overarching. Vomiting, seizures, difficulty swallowing, loss of bladder control, cardiac and pulmonary dysfunction and weakness in her muscles and joints to name but a few.

Overarching, systemic effects

Nic has numerous conditions and symptoms which I believe the instabilities are responsible for:

  • Gastroparesis and dumping syndrome. These are conditions which seem to alternate in her. The former is where the stomach doesn’t empty properly, the latter where it empties too quickly. Both cause various, severe symptoms like uncontrollable vomiting. They are both probably related to brain stem compression; specifically the vagus nerve. She was free of gastroparesis from August until October 19, when it returned with a vengeance. This was the longest she had been without it. We believe it came back partly due to a strain on her cervical junction which at first resulted in severe pain extending into her thoracic area and down her left arm. But it also flares up whenever she has a ‘crash’ due to the ME, which she also appeared to have. I think the process here is this: any form of exertion results in post-exertional malaise (PEM) due to the ME. This, in part, impairs her already compromised mitochondria function (due to the ME), thus disrupting energy delivery. Therefore, any underlying EDS/CCI/AAI-related issues (like impairment of stomach muscle/nerve function in gastroparesis) are made even worse. Hence when Nic has PEM, her gastroparesis flares up. This time, the additional issues with her cervical junction appear to have been the trigger of it.
  • Dysphagia. This is where swallowing is difficult due to nerve and muscle dysfunction. Again, this is probably related to vagus or accessory nerve interference in the brain stem or cervical junction.
  • Focal autonomic/impaired awareness and tonic clonic seizures. A neurocardiologist agreed with my theory that the below is likely to be the process which leads to her seizures; in my opinion, once again at the root of this is brain stem compression as the heart’s sinoatrial node’s rate of production is ultimately controlled by the vagus nerve:NICOLA SEIZURE PATHOLOGY
  • I can accurately predict (with an 89% confidence rate) when she will have a seizure. This is due to an average 11% drop (versus her usual mean) in both her systolic and diastolic blood pressures the preceding night.
  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). This is where the heart fails to respond properly when posture is changed. It causes dizziness and imbalance. This could be caused by interference with the vagus nerve, which controls the parasympathetic aspects of the heart; essentially heart rate at rest. In short, the baroreceptor reflex is not being communicated to the medulla oblongata in the brain stem correctly. This causes her heart rate to remain increased after going from a supine/sitting to standing position.
  • Peripheral neuropathy. This is loss of sensitivity in her extremities, like hands and feet.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak. This is where the fluid that cushions the brain and/or spine leaks out due to a tear in one of the duras (membranes). It happened in August during the postictal stage of a tonic clonic seizure. Nic projected herself out of bed, hitting her head and neck on the dressing table. Kings A&E said it was rhinosinusitis. We had to see a private neurologist to confirm the leak. The symptoms passed by the middle of October. But the leak showed that the vulnerability of her cervical junction has increased, as this was the first time she has had one.
  • Reflex micturition/neurogenic bladder. This is an increased need to urinate and a degree of loss of bladder control, which has manifested more since the CSF leak. Nic has to urinate around once an hour, sometimes more – even though her fluid intake is less than mine. Whether this relates to the brain stem compression is more complex. If it does, it may be due to signals from her bladder’s afferent nerves being miscommunicated. Or, it may be faults in the hypogastric/pelvic/pudendal nerves. But if it’s the latter, that may be an indication of a fault lower down her spine; specifically tethered cord syndrome which we need to get her checked for.
  • Cervical radiculopathy. This is nerve interference in the cervical junction, which causes pain to radiate from this area to other parts of the body (depending on what nerves are compromised).
  • Chronotropic incompetence. This is where Nic’s heart rate does not increase appropriately during exercise. I believe this is caused by interference with the cardiac plexus via the sympathetic trunk and/or left vagus nerve; this controls heart rate over 100bpm. But this could also be related to hormone dysfunction due to the ME, as well as the vagus-controlled parasympathetic response to initial heart rate increase.

Wheelchair bound

But Nic’s muscle and joint strength has also deteriorated. It has got to the stage where she sometimes has to use a wheelchair to go out. This is because the weakness in her legs and lower back pain means she cannot walk more than a few metres without having to stop or being in pain. Sadly, one of only a handful of neurosurgeons in the UK who understand the instabilities didn’t think her weakness was bad enough to warrant surgery on her cervical junction.

What he failed to realise is that Nic practised karate to a proficient level as a child/early teen. This has meant that her strength started out as being more than your average patient. So, what the neurosurgeon considers to be strong now, is actually a worsening by Nic’s standards. In this case, one size doesn’t fit all.

Off to Spain

So, we have to begin the process of potential surgery in Spain. Why Spain? Because the NHS doesn’t recognise the CCI or AAI, therefore there are no treatment options available.

This surgery will cost anywhere between £60,000-£200,000, depending on the extent of what Nic has to have done. This will be a separate fundraiser. In short, the surgery involves fusing/screwing her vertebrae together to hold them in place. This is not without it’s own serious complications and risks.

To do this, we have to have more non-NHS tests done, like a 3D CT of her cervical spine, MR angio/venogram, cineradiography flexion/extension and CT of her lower spine to check for tethered cord syndrome. This will be around £1,200 plus consultation/interpretation fees. Then we will need to travel to Barcelona for a face-to-face consultation with the surgeon. The cost of the appointment is around €300 plus travel costs. Nic can’t fly with her instabilities due to the risks posed by pressure changes, so boat or train it will have to be. This makes the trip even more expensive.

We also need to have her genetic testing for Ehlers-Danlos done. This is because there is now a question mark over her subtype. It may be classical. Ultimately, we want Nicola to be tested so her son can then get the diagnoses he needs. This is because EDS’ are inherited conditions. A positive genetic test for her means he won’t have to endure the years of being told his symptoms (some of which he already has) are ‘all in his head’, as his mother did. We don’t want him to suffer in the same way Nicola has. This will be £2,000 each.

UPDATE: for those asking why the NHS cannot help with this. Nicola’s EDS diagnosis has all been done privately, due to two-year NHS waiting lists. The EDS specialist at NHS UCH is now no longer taking patients. This is who we saw privately. We’ve tried to get the NHS to do the genetic testing. But the request from the GP just got bounced back, as did my own request direct to the centre that does the testing.

The additional spinal scans are not available. This is because the NHS does not even recognise Nic’s CCI and AAI. Moreover, if you want cases in point of how the NHS views people who have had spinal fusion surgery abroad, check out my podcasts with Samantha Smith and Victoria Cheney:

CanaryPod: Topple Uncaged meets… #SaveSamantha

CanaryPod: Topple Uncaged – Antonia’s story, part one

CanaryPod: Topple Uncaged – Antonia’s story, part two

All in all, we think this is going to cost around £8,000 to begin with.

Rebooting life

It is a damning indictment of the NHS that any of this has to be private, let alone abroad, in the first place. But Nic is not alone. Google “craniocervical instability” and look under “news” and you’ll see countless other people in her situation. All are fundraising as the NHS doesn’t help.

It’s also a damning indictment of the DWP that the instabilities, plus all Nic’s other illnesses, only ‘deserve’ £58.70 a week.

We hope that once the ME, CCI, AAI and mycotoxicosis (more on that in another article) are resolved as best they can be, Nic can hit the ‘reboot’ button on her life. She has never known being a mother, or an adult, without chronic illness. A whole world of possibilities awaits her, if we can just get her well.

So, once again – if you can help please, please do.

I want to give her some quality of life back. But I need your help to do it. Please donate what you can via:

http://www.paypal.me/NicolaCJeffery 

The DWP denied benefits to someone with 16 illnesses. We now need your help.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the UK’s social security agency that is supposed to support disabled people, just denied full benefits to a chronically ill and disabled person who lives with 16 different diseases, illnesses and conditions.

The decision shows the abject failure of government outsourcing. But it also demonstrates the callous and incompetent nature of the welfare system.

UPDATE: we urgently need to raise £1,500 to begin with to be able to continue Nicola’s treatment, otherwise everything will have to stop. This is unthinkable for me. If you can please help, donate via http://www.paypal.me/MrTopple

16 illnesses and counting

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a welfare entitlement from the DWP. Is it intended to help towards the additional costs disabled and sick people have due to their conditions.

My partner Nicola Jeffery is one such person. You can read all about her medical story here. In short, she lives with:

Oh, and possible Secondary Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. We’re still looking into that.

Nicola has deteriorated. The CCI and AAI are becoming severe and dangerous. She had a seizure a few week’s ago which caused a fluid leak from her brain. She has brain stem compression. Now, she often cannot leave the house without a wheelchair, as she is too weak:

ECLg55oX4AAOsUM.jpg

I gave up work full time to support Nicola. You can read more about that decision here. Since then, we have accumulated probably the best clinical evidence of her illnesses available in the UK. I’d put my neck on the line to say most people have not got the extent of a diagnostic picture she has.

A financial black hole

It has cost a small fortune from my mother’s life savings, and we are now having to fund raise to get further treatment. We are having to fund raise for her seizures, like the one below:

This is because the NHS will only recognise them as “functional/dissociative” or “psychomatic”, even though I have hard clinical evidence that proves otherwise.

Now, we are also having to try and raise the money to continue her treatment.

She is currently under the care of one of the only doctors in the UK that attempts to properly treat ME. She has been on a programme for several months. But now, if we don’t raise £1,500 quickly, this will have to be stopped dead in its tracks, and all the progress she has made so far will be undone. This is terrifying.

We also have to begin the process of potential surgery in Spain. Why Spain? Because the NHS doesn’t recognise the CCI or AAI, therefore there are no treatment options available.

This surgery will cost anywhere between £60,000-£200,000, depending on the extent of what Nic has to have done. This will be a separate fundraiser.

To do this, we have to have more non-NHS tests done, like a 3D CT of her cervical spine, MR angio/venogram, cineradiography flexion/extension and CT of her lower spine to check for tethered cord syndrome. This will be around £1,200 plus consultation/interpretation fees. Then we will need to travel to Barcelona for a face-to-face consultation with the surgeon. The cost of the appointment is around €300 plus travel costs.

We also need to have her genetic testing for Ehlers-Danlos done. This is because there is now a question mark over her subtype. Ultimately, we want Nicola to be tested to her son can then get the diagnoses he needs. This means he won’t have to endure the years of being told his symptoms (some of which he already has) are not ‘all in his head’. We don’t want him to suffer in the same way Nicola has. This will be £2,000 each.

You can read about our fundraising here, and if you can help with the £1,500 for the ME treatment, or the £8,000 for the EDS-related work, please donate via this link:

http://www.paypal.me/MrTopple

She is house bound for 85% of the time. When she does go out, she has to build up to it. Afterwards, she is incapacitated for several days. This is just one aspect of her health. The implications of all her conditions are extensive and systemic, affecting every part of her body.

Going back to the DWP

So, she applied for PIP. We submitted several doctor’s reports, a complete diary of Nicola’s life for the entire month of May, her complex treatment regime and more.

After a PIP assessment where the assessor let a fire door slam onto Nicola, almost knocking her over and injuring her hip, we got this decision:

Nic PIP.jpg

As is usual, the assessor appeared kind and understanding, which we know is never a gauge of the outcome.

I wasn’t expecting the DWP to award Nicola higher rate for both without a fight. But I was expecting standard rate mobility and possibly higher rate for daily living. To say I was furious wouldn’t do my anger justice.

Let me break the DWP’s decision down for you using one area as an example. We have clinical evidence to back up every single claim I make below.

Full time caring? Not according to the DWP

Around four hours of my day is spent preparing Nicola’s complex medication regime and cooking. The former consists of 26 different supplements and pharmaceutical medications, administered at six different points across the day.

This is what she takes in the morning:

_20190719_100357.JPG

The latter consists of a controlled carbohydrate and sugar free diet, where every ingredient has to be measured and the calorie (kcal) content calculated.

Nicola has dysphagia, which means she has difficulty swallowing and can be at risk of choking. She also has impaired cognitive function, meaning she cannot remember what she is taking when. Her impaired cognitive function means she struggles to follow written instructions for something with this level of complexity.

In her May diary, we noted that she attempted to cook a meal once. She struggled to remember the quantities of ingredients and was left exhausted and distressed after trying.

All the supplements, medications and the diet serve various functions to try and improve Nicola’s health; specifically with her ME and hEDS.

To be clear: this is not our medication and diet plan. It’s not a “lifestyle choice”. This is from one of Nicola’s private, General Medical Council (GMC) registered doctors. We also have written evidence of this plan being approved by three NHS, GMC-registered consultants.

The DWP’s score for Nicola on “managing your treatments” was 1 point, the minimum.

The reality? She should have scored 8, as I have to spend more than 14 hours a week preparing and administering it. I also have to “monitor” her “health condition” by taking five blood pressure, heart rate and temperature readings across the day. This is because some of the medication she is on results in changes to these. I also have to “monitor” her “health condition” by documenting her symptoms and being proactive when she has, for example, a Post-Exertional Malaise (PEM) crash, as this requires additional support and medication.

The DWP did not recognise any of this. It was the same story on most of the other descriptors. I won’t go into them as this article will turn into an essay.

But it’s the mobility decision that is the most infuriating.

Mobility chaos

The DWP did not believe that Nicola’s uncontrolled, random seizures warranted me having to support her to make familiar and unfamiliar journeys. Even though I have witnessed her having them in the street, and also at any time of the day. It did not equate that if she did have a seizure, on her own, in the street, and collapsed she would be at serious risk of neck injury owing to her CCI and AAI. Nor did it intersect this with the fact that Nicola can only attempt to go out one day a week.

It didn’t equate for the fact that Nicola cannot risk using public transport anymore due to, again, the risk of injury to her neck. Nor did it equate for Nicola not being able to use public transport anymore due to the risk of infection due to her weakened immune system. It didn’t equate for Nicola having an anaerobic threshold of four metabolic equivalents (METs), meaning she cannot do any exertion which takes her over this. Walking the 0.8km to our train station would be this. Going to and from a bus would use up part of those four METs.

The DWP didn’t take into account that Nicola can no longer plan and go on an unfamiliar route unaided, due to her cognitive impairment leaving her at risk of getting lost. Nor did the DWP take into account that Nicola forgot her parents address recently. They live 30 seconds walk away from us.

A whitewash

Overall, the assessment was a whitewash of the severity of Nicola’s health. The assessor even had the audacity to say that she was “not diagnosed with any cognitive conditions”. Even though ME, hEDS, CCI and AAI all effect cognitive function, as stated in the literature available.

As a side note, the assessor also said:

You are not taking any medications to treat your symptoms of nausea and vomiting and there is no evidence to suggest these symptoms in your plan.

The second part is firstly a lie, as the evidence was there in Nicola’s diary. The first statement about medication shows the incompetence of the assessor and the DWP. Nicola is taking adrenal hormone replacements which, in part, her doctor has prescribed to attempt to improve her digestive transit, thus improving her gastroparesis.

Back in 2016…

What sticks in the throat even more is that Nicola is getting the exact same PIP award as she was previously getting in 2016. That is, standard rate daily living component. This is despite at that time only living with an incorrect fibromyalgia diagnosis. But moreover, this is despite a severe deterioration in her health, which I have fully documented. It shows a systematic failure by the DWP to ensure health assessment providers comply with working from the standardised guidelines. Or the department has built in this fault in the system to ensure the muddying of waters when it comes to a level playing field for claimants across the board; with the goal of saving money. It’s probably a bit of both.

The decision also shows the preposterous contradiction that sits at the heart of the DWP.

Toxic contradictions

We are bombarded with this constant narrative of ‘scroungers’, ‘shirkers’, ‘benefits cheats’ and the notion that the government wants disabled people to get back to work.

Yet if you buy into that distinctly capitalist mantra, Nicola’s decision goes against this. Surely the DWP wants to support her to live independently and to get back to work? But by denying her entitlements it’s stopping her health improving. And ultimately, it is stopping her finding a job.

So, which is it?

Neither. Apparently the corporate-driven push to force as many sick and disabled people into work doesn’t apply to complex chronic illnesses. Nor does the notion of the state providing support when life metes out its worst at you, apply either.

Complex chronically ill people, often living with ME and EDS, are literally being left to rot. In Nicola’s and other’s cases, it is partly because the system and specifically the NHS does not even recognise her conditions. The assessor didn’t even know what several of them were. It is also because the PIP criteria is essentially incompatible with these kind of conditions.

Their carers and advocates are also left on the scrapheap. They are left scrabbling around, begging and borrowing, desperately trying to garner some minuscule quality of life for their loved ones. The same DWP contradiction applies here, too. I cannot work full time and therefore contribute tax while Nicola is so ill. Yet by denying her full PIP I cannot get state support either.

Lives, wasted

Two lives. Literally being wasted.

And for what? To save money on a welfare budget [pdf] that makes up around 2% of the UK’s total gross domestic product? We and millions of others are literally paying the price for economic illiteracy, personal incompetence and ultimately nefarious greed. But of course, the system is such it’s supposed to be like this.

Overall, Nicola is housebound the majority of the time. Her son has had to move into his dad’s due to the severity of her illnesses and our attempts to improve her health. She is left:

  • Unable to cook.
  • Unable to clean.
  • Unable to write more than a few sentences.
  • Unable to have visitors for longer than two hours.
  • Unable to use social media for long periods of time.
  • Unable to read more than a few pages of a book.
  • Unable to have sex.
  • Unable to eat properly.
  • Unable to have proper bowel movements.
  • Unable to shower daily and properly.
  • Unable to live any kind of life.

If she does any of the above, her health deteriorates.

And still, all this is worth £57.30 a week to the DWP.

Out of options?

We are now left with a Mandatory Reconsideration, and most likely an appeal. Moreover, we are also left with hardly any financial support.

But most of all Nicola, who was for years told her 16 illnesses were ‘all in her head’, is left feeling disbelieved, isolated and abandoned. Again. Like she has for most of her adult life, not least by her family, some of whom still disbelieve her to this day.

All this just so the DWP can save a few pounds and force people back into work. Our society is truly broken.

I want to give her some quality of life back, despite what the DWP thinks. But I need your help to do it. Please donate what you can below.
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We now have to fund-raise to solve my girlfriend’s seizures

Some of you may be aware of my girlfriend Nicola Jeffery’s story. Many will be aware of her seizures. Now I believe I may have worked them out. But it’s going to cost to prove this. And we need some financial help from the public.

A complex picture

You can read all about Nicola’s medical story here. In short, she lives with:

I gave up work full time to support Nicola. You can read more about that decision here. In short, we are currently on a complex treatment plan for the ME. This is starting to show some results, with improvements across various clinical measures. But progress is slow.

What we still haven’t got to the bottom of are Nicola’s seizures.

Seizures: blighting her life

This is one of them:

She had one this morning (Wednesday). They have blighted her life for many years and no neurologist can work out what’s causing them.

At first, she was told she was waking up incontinent and in severe pain due to the birth of her child, and her now incorrect diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Her previous partner witnessed a few of them. Her son, a toddler at the time, even had to call an ambulance during one episode.

But since we have been together, I have documented them fully.

Debilitating

The challenge for Nicola is multi-stranded. She lives with ME and hEDS, which makes her muscles weak and prone to exhaustion after exertion. Having a seizure, where her whole body contorts and strains, has a devastating effect on her. It leaves her effectively incapacitated for up to five days.

They severely impact her already damaged cognitive function. She has chipped many of her teeth and due to the hEDS her bottom front ones are now extremely loose. Moreover, she is of course at risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP).

Now, I think I know what is causing them. But to get it properly diagnosed, we’re going to need some help. This is in the hope that we can rid Nicola of one of the most distressing aspects of her illnesses.

My theory

In short, she lives with Hypocapnia, also known has Hypocarbia. This is essentially below-normal levels of carbon dioxide (CO²) in her blood. We discovered this during a two-day Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test (CPET).

Hypocapnia has two major effects. It firstly reduces arterial blood pressure. We know Nicola’s blood pressure is already hypotensive. Secondly, it causes Respiratory Alkalosis, where the blood becomes too alkaline. Normally, Hypocapnia is caused by hyperventilation. But due to the CPET testing in Nicola’s case we know this is not the cause.

What I think it happening to Nicola is the following:

  • Her mitochondria dysfunction, Chronotropic Incompetence and Megaloblastic Anaemia are causing cardio and pulmonary dysfunction. We know from various testing, for example, that Nicola’s mitochondria fail on minimal exertion and that her red blood cells do not carry oxygen around her body correctly.
  • Specifically, she has Ventilation/Perfusion Mismatch, where a part of her lungs get oxygen without blood flow or blood flow without oxygen.
  • This results in Hypocapnia.
  • It then causes her blood pressure to drop extremely low, probably due to vasodilation. It also causes her blood to become very alkaline.
  • The knock on effect is restricted blood flow to her brain. This is known as Cerebral Hypoperfusion.
  • This vasoconstriction leads to the seizures, both the focal autonomic aware and tonic clonic ones.

We know there is a link with her blood pressure. I’ve identified that the night before she has a seizure, her systolic/diastolic blood pressures drop by, on average, 8% and 19% respectively.

So, we can now predict when she will have one or both of her seizures. But I do not have definite answers.

Another long journey

To get these, and finally rid her of these distressing episodes, we will need to find a neurologist, cardiologist, haematologist and pulmonary expert who are willing and open minded enough to do all the necessary testing. It will involve more blood tests, and numerous diagnostics the night before, during and after a seizure.

None of this, from my theoretical diagnosis to the investigatory work, is available on the NHS. Nicola’s seizures have already been labelled “psychosomatic” and “functional” (ie. all in her head) by several neurologists. We will not get help there.

Most of Nicola’s treatment is now private, due to the lack of recognition and clinical care for her illnesses on the NHS. You can read more about that here. We currently have the money to fund this.

But to investigate Nicola’s seizures fully we need help. It’s an unbudgeted expense in her treatment plan.

We need your help

So, we are asking people to donate via my PayPal to support us in trying to get to the bottom of this. Once I have an idea of cost I’ll publish this. I know a standard consultant appointment will be at least £250-£300.

We both understand how hard things are for many people at present. But anything you can donate would be greatly appreciated.

Nicola’s life has been blighted by chronic ill health for too long. If we can solve her seizures, then one aspect of her complex and debilitating medical picture will finally be resolved.

I want to give her some quality of life back. But I need your help to do it. Please donate what you can below.
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At #PMQs Theresa May threw millions of disabled people under a bus

A question from a Labour MP at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday 8 May gave Theresa May the chance to throw millions of disabled people under a bus. But it also exposed an under-reported catastrophe for potentially hundreds of thousands of chronically ill people.

An “isolated case”?

Labour MP Sandy Martin raised the issue of a disabled constituent with a disabled child who had their benefits stopped. The mother lived with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and fibromyalgia, and her child had hypermobility, therefore possibly a connective tissue disorder.

Listen to Martin’s question and May’s response below:

 

 

Martin took to Twitter to imply May thought his constituent’s case was “isolated”:

The PM may well indeed have implied Martin’s constituent’s case was ‘isolated’. But the reality in the UK for people living with ME, fibromyalgia and hypermobility/connective tissue disorders is very different.

A chronic epidemic?

Here are details about ME, fibromyalgia and connective tissue disorders. But all come with symptoms of generalised pain, chronic fatigue and cognitive impairment. All can be debilitating in many cases, leaving some people house or bed bound. And all are poorly misunderstood by medical professionals, government agencies and society.

Estimates put the number of people living with fibromyalgia between 1.5-2 million; the number of people living with ME at 250,000, and there are no estimates for the number of people living with connective tissue/hypermobility-related illnesses – although the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS), for example, are thought to affect 1 in every 5,000 people. So that’s around 13,000 individuals in the UK.

So, let’s use a ballpark figure of around two million people in the UK that live with either fibromyalgia, ME or connective tissue disorders. It’s probably an underestimate.

Just how many of these people does the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) give benefits to?

The official figures show…

Based on my own analysis of the DWP’s data website Stat-Xplore the most recent figures show:

  • 15,936 people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) got Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The DWP uses the term CFS, not ME.
  • 73,560 people with fibromyalgia got PIP.
  • 11,349 people with connective tissue disorders got PIP. The DWP does not include EDS specifically in its data.
  • 16,305 people with “Chronic Pain syndromes” (which would cover CFS and fibromyalgia) got Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
  • 91,164 people with “Diseases of the Muscles, Bones and Joints” (which would cover connective tissue disorders) got DLA.
  • 270,636 people with “Diseases of the Musculoskeletal System and Connective Tissue” (which would cover all of the above) got some form of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

That equates to the DWP giving benefits to just under 500,000 people with ME, fibromyalgia and connective tissue disorders – out of around two million people. Except it’s a gross over-estimate, as many more illnesses are grouped into some of the categories.

You can view the data I used here, here, here and here.

It should be noted that these figures are for claimant’s main reported disability. So there may be some people who get benefits with another condition aside from ME, fibromyalgia or a connective tissue disorder. But the figures still raise some worrying questions.

Shocking abandonment?

What we do know is that out of at least 250,000 people living with ME, the DWP gave PIP/DLA, the main disability benefits, to under 30,000 of them when it was their main disability. That’s just 12% of people living with this debilitating disease. To me, this doesn’t sound right.

It’s even more damning when we know that between 35,000 and 70,000 people in the UK have “severe” or “very severe” ME. This often leaves people bed-bound day in, day out. But it appears the DWP does not even give all of these people benefits.

Of fibromyalgia, possibly 80,000 people at best got PIP/DLA for it – out of 1.5-2 million people, or 4-6%.

We don’t know how many people with EDS get benefits, as the DWP doesn’t bother to even recognise it as a separate medical condition.

For ESA, if you put my ballpark two million figure of people in the UK living with ME, fibromyalgia and connective tissue disorders into the DWP’s figure, it would mean that only 13% of these people got benefits for these conditions. It seems unfathomable to think that this is correct.

Rejected. Refused. Millions missing.

So, Prime Minister, was Martin’s example isolated?

Your government’s own figures would suggest otherwise. It’s impossible to imagine how many people living with ME, fibromyalgia and connective tissue disorders do not get the benefits they are entitled to.

The ME Association reported in 2010 that:

our experience as a support charity is that people with ME/CFS have a great deal of difficulty in obtaining sickness and disability benefits when benefit applications are first assessed, or are later re-assessed – even when they are fully supported by their GP or consultant.

Although initial claims are often rejected, there is a high rate of success (around 40%) on appeal – indicating that eligibility criteria and medical assessment procedures are poorly designed for people with this illness…

The refusal rate (for ESA) here is probably even higher than 75%…

It seems that very little has changed. But May probably doesn’t see the irony that, during ME Action Network’s #MillionsMissing campaign week, she effectively ignored the hundreds of thousands of chronically ill people missing from the welfare system. She may as well have thrown them under the nearest bus.

I’ve given up writing full time to support my partner Nic, who lives with ME and nearly now 13 other diseases and illnesses. You can read about her journey here. Most of her medical treatment now has to be private; a challenge in itself with no income.

If you want to support us on this journey, or if you like my writing, any gifts/donations are gratefully accepted below. Thank you.
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The propaganda war on chronically ill and disabled people just went up a gear

Another week and the media dropped another heavy dose of propaganda against chronically ill and disabled people. Nothing new under the sun, I hear you cry. Except there is. Because this time it shows a clear, coordinated pattern emerging in this ongoing smearing of a whole community.

Groundbreaking research?

On Monday 29 April Stanford University in the US published new research into myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

As I previously wrote for The Canary:

Myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly referred to as ME, is a chronic systemic neuroimmune disease. It affects an estimated 17 million people worldwide and around 250,000 people in the UK. While symptoms vary for every person, people living with it often experience:

 

  • A worsening of symptoms brought on by physical activities, mental activities, or both. Often referred to as post-exertional malaise.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • All-over pain.
  • Sleep disturbance / problems.
  • Cognitive impairments.
  • Impairments of the body’s autonomic systems, such as nervous, digestive, and endocrine.
  • Hypersensitivity.

 

But ME has been fraught with controversy. For decades (and often still to this day), the medical profession has not properly recognised it. People living with ME have been disbelievedstigmatised, given incorrect treatment, or told it’s ‘all in their heads’.

You can read my full body of work for The Canary on ME here and there’s also plenty of content on this website.

This is not a medical article, so I won’t go into the details of Stanford’s research – you can read about that here and here. But in short it could pave the way for a proper “marker” for ME – that is, proof the disease exists.

And when compared to current UK mainstream medical thinking, it is infinitely better.

PACE trial

Currently, the NHS’ approved treatment is based on the so-called “PACE trial”. Again, as I previously wrote for The Canary, the trial:

was a study into treatment for people living with ME. Its results claim that people living with ME can improve their illnesses, and sometimes recover, by having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and by using graded exercise therapy (GET).

 

The results of the £5m trial, part-funded by the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), were originally published in the Lancet in 2011. But they have been dismissed by many medical professionals and disabled people alike as damaging and ineffective. US government agencies have either downgraded the reliability of CBT and GET or removed them as recommended treatments altogether.

 

In the UK, CBT and GET are still the NHS’s approved treatments under guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE is undertaking a review of this. But this has proved controversial. Because as ME Action UK reported, among the people sitting on the review committee are a co-author of the PACE Trial and other contentious medical professionals.

You can read my full body of work for The Canary on PACE trial here and on this website.

So, Stanford’s research, potentially showing that ME is a disease to which endless amounts of CBT and GET would be ineffective, is important. So important that a lot of the media reported on it. But three outlets in particular made a point of pouring as much scorn on the research as possible.

Pouring scorn…?

Reuters, the Sun and the Telegraph among others all covered the story. I note these three outlets specifically because each of their articles all had several common denominators. All of these point to the story coming, in part, from one source.

All quoted psychiatrist, president of the Royal Society of Medicine and government adviser Sir Simon Wessely. He was also involved in PACE trial and is an advocate of CBT and GET.

They all used parts, or all of, the same quote from him; that is:

There have been many previous attempts to find a specific biomarker for CFS. The problem is not differentiating patients with CFS from healthy controls. The issue is can any biomarker distinguish CFS patients from those with other fatiguing illnesses?

 

And second, is it measuring the cause, and not the consequence, of illness? This study does not provide any evidence that either has finally been achieved.

Both the Sun and the Telegraph quoted other medical ‘experts’ as well as Wessely. Reuters just used him alone, saying his quote came from an “emailed comment”.

All were published within three minutes of each other at around 8pm BST.

And they all went with calling the disease “chronic fatigue syndrome” and “CFS” first, ME second.

So, why were there many similarities in the stories? Because the source for them all was the same. It was the industry PR agency the Science Media Centre (SMC).

A coordinated smear…?

For example, the writers of the articles lifted all the ‘expert’ comments from Wessely and others directly from a press release by the SMC. Of note is that both Reuters and the Telegraph gave only negative comments from the SMC press release.

The Sun, by all accounts, almost gave the game away as to where the comments had come from by including a positive one from the SMC press release. Whoops!

It also leads with “chronic fatigue syndrome” and “CFS” first, and ME second. That, in my opinion, is a now standard tactic to lessen ME as a debilitating disease and keep it in the realms of the psychosomatic in the mind of the public. CFS already has social connotations – ‘Yuppie Flu’, for example.

The fact all three articles went out at 8pm, bar Reuters at 8:03pm, is another giveaway. The website PNAS published the research at 8pm UK time, with Stanford University tweeting its press release at 8:11pm.

That’s quite a remarkable turnaround time for Reuters, the Sun and the Telegraph to analyse complex research, get comments from ‘leading’ UK ‘experts’ and publish – all in a matter of seconds.

Except of course they didn’t do that.

The MSM/SMC strikes again!

The SMC would have had pre-release access to the Stanford paper. It would have gathered the quotes, sent those along with its analysis of the research to its contacts at every major media outlet, and waited for the ball to get rolling.

Stanford’s research was probably embargoed (that is, not allowed to be published until a certain hour) until 8pm UK time. Although I know for a fact PNAS accidentally published it earlier, at around 10:30am – and then promptly withdrew it. Accident or interesting? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

So, as soon as that embargo lifted, Reuters, the Sun and the Telegraph had their complete pre-scripted articles ready to go.

I deal with embargoed press releases, research and announcements week in, week out. I know how this rolls. And it rolls exactly as above.

But here’s the thing. We’ve been here before with the SMC and ME.

The merry-go-round continues

Just last month, I wrote extensively about how the SMC was coordinating a media campaign in support of PACE trial author Professor Michael Sharpe and the trial, and against people living with ME, their advocates and campaigners.

Central to this was Reuters‘ Kate Kelland (author of the latest Stanford article, too), who has a history of publishing “seeded” stories for the SMC – from GMO crops to fracking. Meanwhile, it effectively admitted [pdf, p4] to such, and also that it would support professionals like Sharpe if they were under attack.

And so, with Stanford University publishing new positive research, the media merry-go-round continued. If you ask me, it has less to do with people living with ME and more to do with UK regulator NICE currently reviewing treatment guidelines for the disease. PACE trial has to be maintained, so best get the smears in against people who disagree with it quickly – in case people start believing them!

But why does this matter? This is how the media works, after all.

It matters because the SMC and its advocates are pushing a damaging, junk science and political agenda.

Political agendas

It’s one which is abusive and harmful to patients. It is also one which has no basis in scientific fact.

But it has plenty of basis in furthering the careers of its proponents, propping up the plans of big government and big corporations, forcing sick and disabled people into work and ultimately creating a world where we’re all reliant on popping pills and seeing shrinks – as opposed to actually being healthy or being given proper treatment if we’re not.

And our irresponsible, servile media plays a major part in keeping this agenda going; as it does with everything that’s in the interests of the powerful but damaging to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, with #MEAwarenessWeek and #MillionsMissing events fast approaching and the ongoing #MAIMES campaign looking promising, expect the media circus to continue.

I’ve given up writing full time to support my partner Nic, who lives with ME and nearly a dozen other diseases and illnesses. You can read about her journey here. Most of her medical treatment now has to be private; a challenge in itself with no income.

If you want to support us on this journey, or if you like my writing, any gifts/donations are gratefully accepted below. Thank you.
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Happy Easter. Unless you’re living with ME.

Chocolate eggs? No. A roast dinner with the whole family around the table? No. Binge-watching movies on the sofa? No. Going out drinking and partying? No.

Happy Easter for many of you, I’m sure. But not if you’re living with an illness that’s ‘all in your head’.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis

As I previously wrote for The Canary:

Myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly referred to as ME, is a chronic systemic neuroimmune disease. It affects an estimated 17 million people worldwide and around 250,000 people in the UK. While symptoms vary for every person, people living with it often experience:

  • A worsening of symptoms brought on by physical activities, mental activities, or both. Often referred to as post-exertional malaise.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • All-over pain.
  • Sleep disturbance / problems.
  • Cognitive impairments.
  • Impairments of the body’s autonomic systems, such as nervous, digestive, and endocrine.
  • Hypersensitivity.

But ME has been fraught with controversy. For decades (and often still to this day), the medical profession has not properly recognised it. People living with ME have been disbelievedstigmatised, given incorrect treatment, or told it’s ‘all in their heads’.

You can read my full body of work for The Canary on ME here.

Nicola’s story

As I’ve previously written, my girlfriend Nicola Jeffery lives with ME, along with a host (now ten in total, as it happens) of other conditions, diseases and illnesses:

She is also now under clinical investigation for:

• Hypothyroidism.
Sheehan’s Syndrome [pdf].
Hypochlorhydria.
Chronotropic Intolerance.

I’ve written extensively about her story to this point. You can read that work here.

So, what does our Easter look like? Probably a world away from many people’s. But also very similar to Easter for millions of chronically ill people.

Just another week in the Jeffery-Topple household

Around 5am on Wednesday 17 April Nic started vomiting. This was followed by diarrhoea. This continued until around 2:30am on Thursday. For the rest of the day she fell in and out of sleep. It’s now Friday 19 April at 1:30pm and she’s eating something for the first time since Tuesday. But only half managed it and has gone back to bed.

Her blood pressure fell to 78/33 at one point, which is worryingly low. During this time she also had three suspected focal seizures. I say “suspected” because no medical professional is able to explain what they are, except they present like them. No tonic clonic this time, though. So we’re grateful for small mercies.

“Why didn’t you call an ambulance?” I hear you scream down your devices.

For numerous reasons. Not least because this bout of unexplained sickness has happened countless times before. But also because we know that a hospital would do little that we weren’t doing at home. In fact, they may in the long term have made the situation worse. If you’re wondering why I think that, check out the reasons why we’ve switched to a paleo-keto diet. All will be revealed. Plus the likelihood of mental health being brought into the equation. Our glorious NHS, hey…?

We’re now weaning her back onto food, and will start reintroducing the 17 different tablets/oral/intravenous solutions she’s on a day, in time.

So, Easter has gone out of the window for us. But for Nic, and millions of people like her, it was never actually in the window in the first place.

Sunday roast? No chance.

If you’re non-disabled, you probably relish the thought of a huge Sunday roast with all the family. If you’re living with ME this could be your worst nightmare.

Maybe explain to people why you can’t eat half the food on your plate due to your socially damaging, highly restrictive diet.

Try eating all that when you have impaired digestive transit. Or if you’re struggling to swallow. Maybe if you have hypersensitivity to taste.

Also, try eating all of that while numerous people talk around a table and you’re hypersensitive to sound. Then try it when your cognitive function is so impaired you can barely follow one person in conversation, let alone a whole group of people.

This, of course, all presumes your family hasn’t effectively disowned you because they think your illness is ‘all in your head’ and you just need to ‘pull yourself together’.

Enjoy your lamb.

Easter eggs? Jokes.

If you’re non-disabled, the best part of Easter may be chocolate eggs. If you’re living with ME, they could be torturous for you.

Histamine intolerance may mean you can’t even eat chocolate. Mast cell activation syndrome could mean it will trigger an allergic reaction in you. And if you’re on a socially damaging, highly restrictive diet, we’re back to the sugar problem again.

Meanwhile, you have to have the strength in your hands to remove the foil wrapping and then break the chocolate in the first place.

All that of course assumes that you even have the money to buy Easter eggs. Try getting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to give you benefits when your condition is still considered part-psychological by much of the medical community.

Hope you have a good sugar rush.

Binge TV? Out of the question.

If you’re non-disabled, you many plot yourself on the sofa and watch endless movies for much of the weekend. If you’re living with ME, this could be near-impossible.

Try being in any other position except lying down for a long period of time when every part of your body aches, you feel like your walking under water and you have a constant fog of light headedness.

Maybe try and sustain your concentration for more than just the news when your cognitive function is so impaired you can’t remember what the weather is going to be like from one day to the next.

Then have a go at enjoying a film when the slightest laugh, scream or groan from people feels like the noise of a high speed train right next to you. And throw in the noise of the television and the strain on your eyes for good measure.

I do hope you have fun watching your Hollywood brain-bleach.

Get ready to party? Not here.

If you’re non-disabled, you may go out over Easter to the pub or a club. Or, like me and Nic were, put on the guest list for a concert by a rapper like Lowkey. If you’re non-disabled, this would be impossible.

Attempt to get showered and dressed when your body is so weak that even going to the toilet exhausts you for hours afterwards. Try putting your make up on when your hand to eye coordination is screwed. Not that you’d be able to sustain the holding up of your arms for that long, anyway.

Try drinking alcohol when you know it will leave you even more bed-bound than you were already. Oh, and try affording alcohol under the DWP.

Maybe you’d like to go to a venue where there are going to be hundreds or thousands of other people, exposing you to their germs, which could make you seriously ill. Hundreds or thousands of people all ready to brush past you or bump into you, but in doing so leaving you in agony.

Or try dealing with the same issues you had eating your Sunday roast with a small group of people all in intense conversation – but multiply it by hundreds and throw in extremely loud music for good measure.

Oh, and try all of this when you can’t use public transport due to the infection risk, the danger of physical damage and the lack of accessibility for chronically, invisibly ill people. And if you want to try and get a taxi to and from where you’re going to, we’re back to the DWP issue again.

I hope your hangover is worth it.

Happy Easter.

Ultimately, try doing all of these things when you constantly feel like you have the flu, never have any energy nor have the cognitive function to decide whether to even do them or not.

Then try doing them when much of the medical profession and state systems disbelieve you, leaving you with no support except other people in exactly the same boat. Even friends and family will only tolerate your inconsistency, the consuming nature of your disease and your inability to do what most people consider ‘normal’ for so long. Gradually, knocks don’t appear at the door. The phone slowly stops ringing. Messages are left unreplied to.

And ultimately, trying doing all of this with the overwhelming feelings of guilt your disease leaves you with.

So, no. There is no Happy Easter for millions of chronically ill, disabled and sick people. There’s just another long weekend, spent fighting not only their own bodies but also a system and society that’s not designed for them to fit in to. Let alone live in.

I’ve given up writing full time to support Nic. Most of her medical treatment now has to be private; a challenge in itself with no income.

If you want to support us on this journey, or if you like my writing, any gifts/donations are gratefully accepted below. Thank you.
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Hi vis vests? Sunflower badges? Next, disabled people will have to wear black triangles.

Two stories caught my attention on Saturday 6 April. Both may seem unremarkable to many. But each demonstrate a slippery slope we’re heading down. The bottom of it is one we cannot let ourselves get to.

You! Yes, YOU! You with the sunflower badge!

One story is that of the autistic boy whose teachers allegedly made wear a hi-vis vest during break times so they could identify him. I’m not going to put too much emphasis on this, as I don’t consider autism an impairment. But the teacher’s thinking behind doing this to him shows, at best, they do. At worst, it shows extreme incompetence, conscious/subconscious prejudice and quite frankly steaming ignorance.

A more telling story is that of Heathrow and Gatwick airports providing passengers living with “hidden disabilities” sunflower lanyards, or neck badges, so staff can identify them.

Look at this happy family about to jet off on their holidays! They must be thrilled knowing that staff will flag the fact they are disabled! Thank God for those lanyards! Yes?

hidden-disability-access-day-756x350.jpg

In my opinion? No, this is not a cause for celebration or a leap forward for disability rights. What these two airports are doing is effectively glossing over the fact that their companies, staff and society more broadly still live with entrenched discrimination, ignorance and prejudice towards disabled people.

A social model

The Social Model of Disability is widely used by campaign groups, political parties and academics as a blueprint for how society should function for disabled people. Essentially, the thrust is that it’s not people’s impairments that make them disabled. It’s society, its systems and structures that do. Solve these, and there’ll be no such thing as disabled people. Because we’ll all be equal.

Utopian I know. But why shouldn’t we be fighting for a society where everyone is equal? To this end, this is the problem with any badge, clothing or trinket that the system puts on disabled people to mark them as ‘special’.

In doing so, it is already singling them out has somehow different to other people. It’s like branding them with a hot iron, showing that these people need more from society than everyone else. Or, as one Twitter user put it about the autistic boy with the hi-vis vest:

Misguided praise

I know many people have welcomed airports’ sunflower badge move. But I’m afraid it’s misguided. All you’re doing is giving your blessing to society and the system continuing to treat you differently. It may seem like a solution to the challenges you face. But it’s not. It is playing into a wider agenda of society leaving disabled people with a few crumbs off the dinner table. You should expect better, and must.

In the case of the airports, why are we tolerating travel that isn’t fully accessible and inclusive for everyone in the first place? Why are we putting up with companies not training their staff adequately on the support needs of all their passengers? And why are we rolling over and accepting that a plastic badge with a flower on it will do? Even with the nuance of it being a short term fix?

The degradation of society

But moreover, we have a political system that’s becoming more and more polarised by the day. The far right is on the rise across the world. Disability hate crime rose by 50% in one year in the UK. The medical profession still discriminates against sick and chronically ill people.

The UN said the UK government and media “have some responsibility” for society seeing disabled people as “parasites, living on social benefits… and [living on] the taxes of other people”. And it said these “very, very dangerous” attitudes could “lead to violence… and if not, to killings and euthanasia”.

In 2016 a learning disabled man was lynched in England.

So, you think branding yourselves as ‘different’ is a progressive move?

A warning from history

History taught us what happens when a political system and its ideology intentionally marks people out as different. As libcom noted about the Nazis:

The Black Triangle badge was for prisoners who were deemed to be Antisocial, the official name was ‘Arbeitsscheu’ which literally translates as work-shy. But long term unemployment wasn’t the only criteria for imprisonment, you could also be declared ‘Arbeitsscheu’ for refusing or being found unfit for compulsory labour such as digging trenches for the Autobahns or working in armaments factories. You could also be branded with the triangle if you were suspected of being of poor moral character, common targets for the anti-social category included the homeless, alcoholics, drug users and sex workers.

 

Victims also included the Roma and people with behavioural abnormalities and disabilities that were deemed not serious enough to warrant euthanasia were also rounded up

“Work-shy”. Ring any bells?

newspaper-headlines1-651x330.jpg

Viewed through the 21st century prism of an increasingly right wing and intolerant society, branding disabled people so they can be recognised as needing ‘special’ treatment doesn’t seem quite so Disney now, does it?

But yet still people accept it. Why?

It’s all political

Herein lies the problem with the chronic illness area of the disabled community. Oh, and that statement in itself will probably raise a few eyebrows. Yes. People with invisible diseases and illnesses are part of the disabled community, however much some people want to segregate them.

The problem is that too many sick and chronically ill people are failing to apply politics to the abuse, dismissal, neglect and human rights violations the system metes out to them. Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is a perfect example of this.

I’ve written extensively on the PACE trial. You can read a background article I did for The Canary here. As I wrote, the trial:

was a study into treatment for people living with ME. Its results claim that people living with ME can improve their illnesses, and sometimes recover, by having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and by using graded exercise therapy (GET).

 

The results of the £5m trial, part-funded by the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), were originally published in the Lancet in 2011. But they have been dismissed by many medical professionals and disabled people alike as damaging and ineffective. US government agencies have either downgraded the reliability of CBT and GET or removed them as recommended treatments altogether.

 

In the UK, CBT and GET are still the NHS’s approved treatments under guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE is undertaking a review of this. But this has proved controversial. Because as ME Action UK reported, among the people sitting on the review committee are a co-author of the PACE Trial and other contentious medical professionals.

PACE trial subversion

In short, PACE trial was in my opinion designed for numerous reasons, not least to:

  • Deny people living with ME state welfare and private insurance payments.
  • Suppress the real causes of ME, which are probably based in virology/immunology.
  • Also suppress real treatment for ME, which probably lies outside the realms of many man-made pharmaceuticals.
  • Therefore further the bond between the corporate pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession.

But whatever the reasons for PACE trial, what we do know is that it was intentionally designed to maintain the notion that ME was, in part, ‘all in people’s heads’. And that the best treatments for it were talking therapy (‘think yourself better!’) and exercise (work harder you work-shy hypochondriacs!’). It is undoubtedly a medical scandal that firmly has its roots in our political and economic systems.

Yet many people living with ME still view it as an issue of medical negligence, and nothing more.

I understand why. When you are already struggling to get medical professionals to even acknowledge your diseases, illnesses and impairments are real, the politics of why they’re not is probably the furthest thing from your mind.

But that needs to change. Because otherwise, people living with ME, and sick and chronically ill people more broadly, will be sleep-walking into a dystopian future.

A media war

Acceptance of sunflower lanyards is part of this. But another is to do with the recent media smear campaign against people living with ME and their advocates’ objections to PACE trial.

As I wrote across three articles, in March the media, coordinated by PR organisation Science Media Centre (SMC), kicked back against people criticising PACE trial. It was an effective war, and a nasty one at that. SMC planted (or “seeded“) stories defending PACE trial and its authors. People widely condemned it, with the Times coming in for particular criticism.

Yet a few days later, both the Times and the Guardian published articles which seemed more supportive of people living with ME. The Times one [paywall] was by Dr Mark Porter, where he seemed sympathetic towards the issue. The Guardian one was by Dr Frances Ryan, where she seemed to defend people living with ME and call out the abuse they suffer.

In short, neither was really advocating for people living with ME.

Seeded platitudes

Porter’s column was as passive-aggressive as they come. While he stood up for people living with ME, he still defended PACE trial and made his dislike of the criticism of medical professionals involved in it clear, albeit doing both in a backhanded way.

Why was his column so half-baked?

I believe his article was seeded by the Times‘ editorial machinery/SMC as much as its previous ones. As a journalist, I know how the game works. And Porter’s article was a blatant attempt by the Times at presenting ‘balance’ and placating the backlash it had received.

Controlled opposition

Ryan’s column, widely welcomed by the ME community, was little better. As a journalist, I know what to do when you want to write an article that won’t bring any controversy to your door. You paint the criticisms of your subject matter as other people’s views. As Ryan wrote:

The trial has since been criticised as “not robust” by scientists, while some patients reported that their conditions actually deteriorated after taking on the exercise. Crucially, many people with ME believe this research, and the media’s ongoing coverage of it has added fuel to the belief that their illness is not real…

It’s not Ryan or the Guardian saying it. It’s other people. She’s just reporting it. ‘PACE trial’ failed to get even a single mention by name in the article. Nor does the piece give reasons why people are criticising it. So, why – when it’s the central concept to the whole story?

Except it wasn’t. Ryan used PACE trial and people living with ME as a hook to discuss abuse towards disabled people more broadly. A subject matter not to be dismissed and she makes some excellent points. But as an article, it did nothing to further society’s understanding of ME and why PACE trial is crucial in all this. Yet it may as well have been hailed as a revolution by some people.

Again, why was it so half-baked?

Unconscious bias?

I don’t believe opinion writers like Ryan and left wing commentator Owen Jones are told what to write. I believe they are moulded by the systems around them to know not what to write.

As press analysis organisation Media Lens noted about how mainstream journalists end up being “synchronised metronomes churning out propaganda” (quoting someone else):

‘In the early stage, you’re a young crusader and you write an exposé story about the powers that be, and you bring it to your editor and the editor says: “No, kill it. We can’t touch that. Too hot.”

 

‘Stage two: You get an idea for the story, but you don’t write it and you check with the editor first and he says: “No, won’t fly. No, I think the old man won’t like it. Don’t do that, he has a lot of friends in there and that might get messy.”

 

‘Stage three: You get an idea for the story and you yourself dismiss it as silly.

 

‘Stage four: You no longer get the idea for that kind of an exposé story.

 

‘And I would add a stage five: You then appear on panels, with media critics like me, and you get very angry and indignant when we say that there are biases in the media and you’re not as free and independent as you think.’

Essentially, journalists and writers unconsciously self-edit after they’ve been playing the game long enough. It becomes natural to them to omit certain points, or phrase things a certain way, just to avoid any editorial hassle.

I believe this is the position Ryan finds herself in. She knows that if she goes too deep into PACE trial it won’t get published and if she makes accusations it will just be edited anyway. So she does neither, putting herself firmly on the fence. Oh, and keeping her job and position in all this to boot.

Why is this relevant to the sunflower lanyards?

Because it’s all one in the same thing.

Rules of engagement

In the same way the lanyards are actually grossly unhelpful (and dangerous) for sick and chronically ill people in the long-term, so are cleverly worded but ultimately half-baked, ‘safe’ and insipid articles in the Guardian.

Both add to the political dumbing down of ME. And in the long term, if we continue to accept these crumbs from the table, eventually they’ll be no bread left.

If you support UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, you’ll know there’s researched evidence of the media bias against him. For the sake of balance, if you’re a UKIP supporter you’ll know there’s researched evidence of the media bias against Brexit.

In the realms of politics, we know that the media and ultimately the system wishes to keep the centralised status quo.

That principle must be applied by sick and chronically ill people to the battles they are fighting. Because all these battles, not least around PACE trial, are political. Therefore the rules of engagement are the same. Otherwise, nothing will really change. And you’ll be forever wearing sunflower lanyards.

I am no longer writing for The Canary, due to my partner’s chronic illness. You can read about that here; I’m now effectively a full time carer. But if you like my work any gifts/donations to keep it going are gratefully accepted below. Thank you.
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