HC Deb 23 February 1988 vol 128 cc167-8 4.36 pm
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require an annual report to Parliament on progress made in investigating the causes, effects and treatment of myalgic encephalomyelitis. First, I should like to pay tribute to the many sufferers who have written to me in the past few days telling me of their personal suffering from the illness myalgic encephalomyelitis—an illness that is also known as post-virile fatigue syndrome.

I should like to pay tribute to the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Association and the myalgic encephalomyelitis action campaign for the tremendous work that they do for the sufferers of this terrible and devastating illness and for the help that they gave me in preparing the Bill.

The ME illness was first observed in Britain 33 years ago in 1955, but it was observed in other countries as early as 1939. Research into the disease is being carried out in Britain at St. Mary's hospital in Paddington, Glasgow university and establishments elsewhere. Research is also being carried out abroad, notably in Australia and the United States of America.

Research shows that ME appears to be caused by virile infection, combined with a disfunction of the immune system. There is no doubt that ME is an organic disease. The nature of the disease is such that it primarily strikes the central nervous system, the brain and body muscles. Its most common symptom is a profound weakness of the body, which results in even the most active of people being confined to their bed for long periods, sometimes years.

Another symptom that is more distressing than that is the illness's effect on the brain. Some normally bright, alert people find themselves unable to function. Their concentration goes; they have difficulty speaking; and even conversation leaves them completely exhausted. Sufferers lose their jobs and their lives come to a halt. Children affected lose out on their education, sometimes for years. For many children the disease totally devastates their lives.

The greatest suffering of all is the anguish caused by misdiagnosis. On top of the physical and mental stress caused by the disease, sufferers' agonies are compounded by being told that they are well, that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are malingering, or that they are neurotic. It is widely acknowledged that many incidences of suicide result from the refusal of doctors to accept that sufferers are ill from myalgic encephalomyelitis.

The Bill is a simple measure which merely requires the Secretary of State to make an annual report to Parliament describing the progress that has been made in investigating the causes, effects, incidence and treatment of ME. Such a report would be of enormous value in drawing the attention of the medical profession, sufferers themselves and others to whom sufferers may turn for help to what is known about the illness. I cannot emphasise enough how vital it is to give proper recognition to the condition, as the failure to recognise the reality of the illness causes sufferers such great and wholly unnecessary distress.

The following are authentic examples of suffering caused by ME. A mother wrote to me saying: My son aged 18 died from this miserable illness last March. He was away at university and had been ill on and off for two years. It all started with an attack of glandular fever. Now we look back over this time and so many things fit into a pattern. He was an active, bright young man with a zest for living and life. This illness got in his way. She concluded by telling me that her son committed suicide.

Then there was Jill from Sussex, who said: I have been to hell and back with this devastating illness. I am still not recognised or getting proper benefits. I have received hundreds of letters about similar experiences from all over Britain, as well as Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Many well-known persons are afflicted with the disease. Sufferers include the Dean of Westminster; David Provan, a Scottish international footballer who had to retire from a promising career; a famous ballet dancer who is now confined to a wheelchair; and Clare Francis, a well-known adventurer and authoress. I inform the House that one of its Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), who is a sponsor of the Bill, is a sufferer.

I submit that the case for justice for ME sufferers is proved beyond all doubt. I have tried today to resist the temptation to speak in strong terms about the failure of the medical profession to recognise myalgic encephalomyelitis and the failure of the Department of Health and Social Security to recognise the plight of ME sufferers. The sufferers are denied proper recognition, misdiagnosed, vilified, ridiculed and driven to great depths of despair. They look to this House for justice. For them all I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jimmy Hood, Mr. Alfred Morris, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. Brynmor John, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Alan Meale, Dr. Lewis Moonie, Mr. Sam Galbraith, Ms. Harriet Harman, Mr. Jimmy Wray, Mr. Tom Clarke and Mr. Jerry Hayes.