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M.E. featured on Woman's Hour

August 24, 2021

Today, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme featured a 13-minute segment on M.E. and Long Covid, as requested by multiple listeners as part of Listener Week 2021. The two guests were our Medical Adviser Dr David Strain and our partner in the Learn about M.E. programme Dr Nina Muirhead. Listen on BBC Sounds from 16:30.

It opened with Dr Muirhead explaining what M.E. is and listing a few of the endless, debilitating symptoms. She said, “As an NHS doctor, I probably saw hundreds of patients with this condition before I got ill myself. I had no empathy for how severe it was and I didn’t recognise it in many patients who presented with all of these symptoms. The biggest gap is in education, doctors aren’t taught to recognise this disease or even empathise with how severely it can impact the patient.”

Dr Strain then explained why doctors don’t always believe their patients, “One of the hallmarks of M.E./CFS is that the blood tests are normal. There’s this almost undying faith in existing medical technology: if tests all come back normal then the assumption was for many in medical school, that normal tests equal not a medical problem. It was easier to accept that than accept we just don’t have the right tests yet. We don’t fully understand what the body goes thorough during infection and what it goes through healing infection.”

They discussed why 3 in 4 people with M.E. are women and how this number is very similar in people with Long Covid and what the reasons for this could be. They made a clear distinction between CFS and M.E., with Dr Muirhead stating, “Most of the patients like to have this disease referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/encephalopathy which reflects the neurological definition of the disease. Chronic Fatigue is a real underestimate and often causes the general public to assume that the illness is not as severe as it is.”

The programme touched upon the delayed publication of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline, with both Dr Strain and Dr Muirhead stating that exercise makes people worse. Dr Strain pointed out that, “It takes longer for people to recover from a bout of exercise than the actual improvement in aerobic capacity they could potentially get from that exercise.” He advocated for pacing and doing tasks in small batches with breaks in between, noting that, “The research hasn’t really focused on the right treatment for this disease. We need the research.”

Dr Muirhead agreed that we need far more research, but recognised that, “there are supportive treatments for patients to get some increased function and quality of life.” She reaffirmed that “doctors have to believe the patients, they have to believe how badly they are affected.” She ended the segment by saying, “There’s a lack of infrastructure in the NHS to deal with these patients. They need a consultant-led service. GPs need to be better educated and equipped to deal with day to day problems. Patients need regular reviews.”

We’re very grateful to the medical experts that we’re so lucky to work with and thank them for all that they are doing to make sure the Long Covid spotlight is turned to M.E. We’re also grateful to everyone who contacted Woman’s Hour to make sure M.E. was on the agenda for Listener’s Week 2021.

The show received positive reviews on Twitter, with one follower writing, “Good to hear 13 minutes of hard hitting advocacy. Very strong from Dr Nina Muirhead and Dr David Strain.”