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Volume 406: debated on Monday 9 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidance his Department gives to the NHS about the treatment of ME. [117202]

We have issued no guidance to the National Health Service on the treatment of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).We are, however, taking steps to improve services for patients with this condition. On 12 May, we announced funding of £8.5 million that will be used to develop services for people with CFS/ME. In July, health organisations will be invited to bid for development funds to set up centres of expertise to develop clinical care, support clinical research and expand education and training programmes for health care professionals and to establish satellite community multidisciplinary teams. The first phase of development will commence in April 2004. We have issued no guidance to hospital trusts and Primary Care Trusts on the provision of services to patients with CFS/ME.The main Government agency for research into the causes and treatment of disease is the Medical Research Council (MRC), which receives its funding from the Department of Trade and Industry via the Office of Science and Technology. The MRC published a research strategy for CFS/ME on 1 May.

The strategy will enable researchers and funders to develop research proposals on all aspects of this illness. It was developed by an independent research advisory group in response to a request from the Chief Medical Officer and was informed by contributions from patients, carers, charities, researchers and clinicians via a consultation exercise in summer 2002.

The MRC has announced two initiatives in response to the strategy. One is a notice to the research community welcoming high quality proposals across the entire spectrum of CFS/ME research. The other is a scientific meeting to discuss the potential to use existing UK resources and infrastructures to undertake epidemiological studies in this country. In addition, the MRC announced funding, on 15 May 2003, for two trials that will look at the effectiveness of various treatments for CFS/ME. The results of these trials will help patients and their doctors to choose the best treatment. These complementary trials will assess a variety of treatments and in doing so will both help address important issues for those with CFS/ME.

The first trial known as PACE (Pacing, Activity and Cognitive behaviour therapy: a randomised Evaluation) will make the first assessment of a treatment choice popular with patients called 'Pacing'. The second trial, known as FINE, (Fatigue Intervention by Nurses Evaluation) will test two different treatments that are particularly suited to helping reach those who are too ill to attend a specialist clinic as patients will be treated by nurses in their own homes.