Nigel Speight: me & ME

My training

I did my basic training at Cambridge and London (University College Hospital). I spent 4 extremely fulfilling years working and teaching medicine at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I then decided to change to paediatrics and did further training in Newcastle. In 1982 I took up a post as consultant paediatrician in Durham, where I worked for 25 years until my retirement in 2007. Ironically, in view of subsequent developments, one of my special interests early on was Child Abuse and Neglect. During my training I had never been taught anything about ME/CFS. At medical school we had been taught a very psychosomatic form of medicine – for instance we were taught that Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis were psychosomatic conditions, and our job was to find out the source of the psychological stress that had brought on the illness (e.g. broken engagement or failed promotion etc)

My practice

My first exposure to ME was when two of my nephews developed it. Shortly after, in 1984, a young lady presented herself at my clinic in a wheelchair and told me she had ME. She seemed very normal psychologically and wished she could attend school more than she was managing. I learnt a lot from her, and once the word got around that I was open and accepting of the diagnosis I was flooded with new and old cases, both from within my catchment area and more widely from the whole of the Northern Region. Eventually I was seeing patients from all over the country, often those who were severely affected. In addition I found myself having to defend >25 cases subjected (in my view inappropriately) to Child Protection proceedings. By the time I retired I had seen a cumulative total of 5-600 cases of ME over 25 years.

My view of ME

From the beginning I have been convinced that ME is a primarily organic i.e. physical condition, and have always been amazed that the psychosomatic view could have held away for so long. In children the issues are particularly clear. From my experience seeing so many other patients around the country, I appreciated the observation of the 14 yr old doctor’s son in Australia who developed the condition and saw a lot of “experts” He said something to the effect that “They don’t seem to know much about it, but one thing he had noticed was that ME is a condition which seems to cause a psychological disturbance in doctors confronted with it”! I had hoped that the CMO’s Working Party report in 2002 would have settled the controversy once and for all. However, the psychiatrists took the setback in their stride and have fought back with renewed vigour, basing all their efforts in programmes for GET and CBT.

My retirement

When I retired I had hoped to be able to leave the burden of paediatric ME to others. However there still seems to be a demand for my services as a paediatric/medical adviser. More distressingly, I am still being called upon to protect children from Care Proceedings, often instigated by local “ME Specialist paediatricians”, who seem to be under the illusion that they have a cure for ME and that in cases that don’t respond to their “treatment” it must be the fault of the parents. I keep hoping I have seen the last case of this sort of thing but then another one comes along. Let’s hope…


Parents of children with ME in Wales have been consulting Dr Speight for many years and in 2010 he joined WAMES as an adviser, until April 2016.

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