Report of Meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on ME by John Sayer

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p5foE-2wI

Update: A second report, in the form of a YouTube video, has also been published:

Dr Charles Shepherd’s unofficial summary of the 2 December APPG on ME meeting, published on behalf of the ME Association on 4 December, can be read here:

Summary of meeting of APPG on ME 2 December 2009: http://wp.me/p5foE-2sj

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Video Report on the UK Parliament All Party Group, APPG, on ME meeting of the 2nd of December

The APPG on ME met on the second of December this year to conclude the Inquiry the APPG has been conducting into publicly funded UK NHS health services for people with ME. APPGs are low level parliamentary committees made up of members of the elected House of Commons and the unelected second or upper tier of Parliament.

However, APPGs are not part of the structure of the UK Government and neither are they part of the official parliamentary committee structure for the scrutiny of government legislation or government departments like the Health Select Committee which scrutinises the Secretary of State for Health and their junior ministerial colleges in order to have parliamentary oversight of the Department of Health.

The main purpose of the APPG on ME’s Inquiry was to interest the Health Select Committee in setting up a similar and more powerful and well resourced Inquiry into NHS services for people with ME. This appears to be a very unlikely outcome given the way the APPG’s Inquiry was conducted and the way in which the Inquiry was concluded.

The meeting of the APPG held on 2/12/09 has proved to be a particularly controversial one and there have been a number of rumours running around the Internet about what took place. The first of a series of three videos gives a factual account of what took place at this meeting with comment and analysis. The remaining videos set out the background to the Inquiry from its inception through to the way in which the Inquiry was carried out.

I would therefore recommend that anyone who has seen the various accounts of the proceedings of the 2nd of December meeting on the Internet might like to watch these videos in order to place the events of the 2nd of December meeting in wider context of the APPG Inquiry as a whole, and then judge matters accordingly.

The report on the meeting of the 2nd of December APPG meeting can be viewed on the You Tube Channel action4change4me at :-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyFp_sTNj08

The background to the APPG Inquiry can be found from a previous video report of the 1st of April 2009 APPG meeting which deals with the setting up and launching of the Inquiry which can be viewed through the You Tube Channel action4change4me at :-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndqP-pSrj6I

There is another video report on the APPG on ME meeting of the 8th of October 2008 at which the APPG first decides to initiate the Inquiry, which can be viewed on the You Tube Channel GBC One here :-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPPClZDko8c

Ciaran Farrell

15 December 2009

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Meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on M.E.
12 December 2009

Report by John Sayer (Chair M.E. Support-Norfolk)

This was the first APPGME meeting I’d ever been able to attend (thanks to Dan, of M.E. Support-Norfolk, driving us down to London) and I’ve now seen for myself how the APPGME operates.

I was not impressed.

Worst of all was the appallingly unprofessional and unhelpful behaviour of the Chairman, Des Turner MP** and the Secretary, the Countess of Mar, right at the start of the meeting: Paul Davis (RiME) had tried to make a point to Turner as he started his opening remarks, and instead of the latter asking him to wait till he’d finished so he could take comments and/or questions (which would be the professional, polite and normal thing for someone chairing a meeting to do), he shouted at Davis for interrupting – like an angry teacher in a classroom – and continued remonstrating, subsequently also turning on attendee Ciaran Farrell, when he politely tried to calm the situation.

There must have been some background history of tension here, since there was no justification for Turner’s over-the-top outburst, and in the middle of his continuing rant Mar suddenly demanded that Davis and Farrell be ejected, otherwise she herself would leave. But without waiting for any response, and with attendees looking stunned and/or bemused, she grabbed her things, said she was leaving anyway, and promptly walked out.

Turner continued with his diatribe, and with belligerent looks and gestures, widened the target of his rebukes to apparently include the whole row of us who were seated together, at one point jabbing a finger in our direction and threatening to have anyone who interrupted him escorted out of the building by the police!

It was an apparent case of Turner, having lost his temper, further getting carried away with his emotions, because he then threatened to leave the meeting as well, actually getting to his feet and gathering up his papers. (Other attendees seated opposite us implored him to stay, which he did.)

This entire episode was completely ridiculous, and I suspect it was a case of Turner and Mar having anticipated trouble for some reason and behaving accordingly, but with no actual cause to do so. It was farcical.

As for the rest of the meeting, we ‘peasants’ were generally treated with what I can only describe as disdain. I would have been open-minded about anyone else’s account if I hadn’t experienced it for myself. It was a disgrace, in my view, and as far as I’m concerned we can do without ‘champions’ like these. What the motivation is for being involved, I don’t know, but I suspect it might have something to do with seeking to maintain control of ‘the movement’ through whatever channels available, the APPGME being just one of them.

My suspicions that this episode was artificially engineered were given strength by the subsequent address by Mike O’Brien MP**, Minister of State for Health Services, who – describing M.E. as “a set of conditions” (!) – appeared to labour the point that one of the obstacles to progress was the lack of unity and agreement amongst patient groups. (Where have we heard that one before?) How coincidental and convenient that the meeting began so ‘controversially’ and demonstrated what a bunch of ungrateful, bolshy irritants we M.E. patients are!

The overwhelming impression I got from this meeting (and not in isolation, as I’ve been following accounts of previous APPGMEs) is that the whole enterprise is becoming a sham. Having dragged myself down to London (at a cost that doesn’t need explaining here), I was well and truly hacked off at the Secretary walking out before the meeting had even got going, being treated like a pariah by a Chairman threatening to end the meeting and having chronically ill patients removed by the police, and being patronised by a Minister whose address was the epitome of political spin. O’Brien seemed to believe that having M.E. meant some days feeling poorly and some days feeling well – well enough to have a part-time job, in fact. So we know where he’s coming from: apparently the same place as Yvette Cooper MP** (guest speaker at the previous APPGME meeting), Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who ‘had M.E’ some years ago but is now ‘fully recovered’…

In the meantime, Dr Charles Shepherd of the Myalgic Encephalopathy Association (MEA), has put his own account of the meeting on the MEA web site here

[extract]:

“Unfortunately, the meeting got off to an extremely regrettable start – all due to a very small section of the audience making repeated and sometimes very aggressive interruptions about various administrative matters. As a result of this gross discourtesy to the Minister, the time available for the ministerial response was being steadily eroded. Despite several polite requests from the Chairman, the interruptions continued. As a result, the Countess of Mar terminated her involvement with the meeting. The Chairman then stated that he would either terminate the meeting or arrange for those involved to be removed from the committee room by the House of Commons police if their interruptions continued. Shortly after, those involved calmed down and we managed to start dealing with the real business of the APPG report.

“On a personal note I am very much in favour of public attendance/contribution at these meetings. However, it needs to be said that if people with ME/CFS want to alienate parliamentary opinion about this illness, and not even have an APPG to put forward their case to ministers etc, then behaving in an aggressive and unpleasant manner is a very good method for achieving this aim. We already have a situation whereby some MPs are unwilling or reluctant to attend APPG meetings – all because of the obsessive and often unpleasant interruptions about administrative matters. And it could well be that after the Election, when the APPG will have to be reformed, it will be very difficult to find enough parliamentarians who are willing to take on an active APPG role. We just cannot afford to risk losing the support of distinguished parliamentarians like the Countess of Mar. It also needs to be said that the vast majority of people with ME/CFS who were present on Wednesday, or were being represented, had come to hear about the report, listen to the Minister, and then ask difficult questions about NHS services – they did not want to take up valuable time listening to complaints about the minutes and APPG administration. This could (and should) have waited till after the Minister had left.”

I’m afraid to say that this version of events at the start of the meeting is so inaccurate as to be justifiably called false. It is not just a distortion of the facts, it is blatantly wrong and I’m now ready to believe that this shameful episode really was deliberately engineered, in order to cast certain individuals – or ‘the M.E. community’ in general – in as bad a light as possible, presumably for the benefit of the Minister of State for Health Services and/or the TV production crew apparently, according to Shepherd’s notes, in attendance.

The “audience” as Shepherd calls us here, did not behave “in an aggressive and unpleasant manner”. Yes, technically speaking and in line with protocol, Davis should perhaps have waited for Turner to finish speaking before seeking to make a point to the Chair, but this was hardly the Crime of the Century and was certainly not a “very aggressive interruption”, as Shepherd would have it.

Neither did Turner make “several polite requests”; he was rude and abusive, to the point of verbal assault. That’s the simple truth. He behaved like an angry, out of control teacher trying to silence a pupil. It was a disgrace and an embarrassment and completely uncalled for. The ‘continued interruptions’ Shepherd refers to were actually contributions from those trying to calm Turner down – including, as I recall, Sir Peter Spencer, CEO of Action for ME!

It is not correct to say, “As a result [of the ‘contuinued interruptions’], the Countess of Mar terminated her involvement with the meeting”. She delivered an ultimatum and then left before anyone could even consider it. There was no need for “those involved” to “calm down”, because people were calm – so calmly spoken in contrast to Turner’s agitated outpourings, in fact, that it was a strain to hear what they were trying to say.

As if to reinforce O’Brien’s assertion that it is partly the fault of ‘the M.E community’ that progress is not being made, Shepherd writes, “…it needs to be said that if people with ME/CFS want to alienate parliamentary opinion about this illness, and not even have an APPG to put forward their case to ministers etc, then behaving in an aggressive and unpleasant manner is a very good method for achieving this aim. We already have a situation whereby some MPs are unwilling or reluctant to attend APPG meetings – all because of the obsessive and often unpleasant interruptions about administrative matters.”

No mention here of the APPGME Chairman “behaving in an aggressive and unpleasant manner” (which he did). No, let’s blame M.E. sufferers themselves for the lack of progress. This excuse just won’t wash any more, and in my own opinion, anyone – MP or otherwise – who is reluctant to get involved in our cause because of the justifiable frustration generally of M.E. patients who have had to suffer denigration, neglect and abuse for decade on decade, is quite simply of no use to us in the first place and we could well do without them.

(It is a ruse, in my view, to attempt to lay some of the blame for the lack of progress in our cause at the feet of patients attending these APPGME meetings and to thereby prejudice the understanding of those not privy to the facts. I have now reached the point, after 17 years, where I seriously believe that too many of our ‘supporters’ are not there to help us at all, but to make sure we don’t actually get any help.)

And if they can’t cope with the issues surrounding ill and vulnerable people, how do MPs manage to deal with their constituents, and voters in general? (With the compensation of a life sweetened by the payment of their moat repairs, damp-proofing, fancy dress wigs and porn movies, perhaps?)

This meeting “got off to an extremely regrettable start” , alright – but not because of the M.E. patients present; it was thanks to the Chairman’s and Secretary’s inability to control themselves. But there’s no need to take my (or anyone else’s) word for what happened: the meeting was officially audio-recorded, and the transcript should eventually be made available for all to see.

Little wonder Shepherd refers in his account to “the audience” at this meeting. As far as I could make out, we were an audience, alright – watching a contrived performance.

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**Footnote

(From the Daily Telegraph supplement “The Complete Expenses Files”; italicised comments are my own):

Des Turner (salary £64,766) Des Turner is a former teacher [aha!] with a PhD in biochemistry. He claimed mortgage interest payments of up to £450 per month on a flat in London and also claimed up to £400 each month on food… [Note – the MPs’ expenses allowance for food alone is equivalent to Incapacity Benefit payments for those unable to work!]

Mike O’Brien (salary £104,050) Claimed £825 for a Sony television in 2006-7, breaching £750 limit, and repaid money following year so he could move it to other home. Claimed £30 for a DVD player in March 2008, plus £250 a month mortgage interest on his designated second home in Nuneaton and £200 a month for food and more for other bills.

Yvette Cooper (salary £141,866) …At one point, Miss Cooper, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, and Mr Balls [husband], the Children’s Secretary, had their expenses docked, having each submitted two monthly claims for mortgage interest for nearly twice the cost of their actual payments. The couple denied flipping after switching their second home designation three times, saying that they had not sought to maximise their expenses and that, unlike some colleagues, they had paid capital gains tax on selling their home…In total, the couple claimed £24,400 between them on their second home allowance last year…

[And it’s the sick and disabled these people are supposed to help who are branded “benefits scroungers”?]

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