Jibes made me ashamed

13th July 2001 at 01:00
In an unforgiveable attack upon parents whose children are too sick to attend school (TESS, June 15) headteacher Pat Sweeney also attacks a study showing that 51 per cent of long-term sickness absence from school is caused by ME - far more than any other illness.

According to Mr Sweeney, an "ME pressure group" conducted this study. He states: "I have developed the automatic response of checking who carried out a study and who commissioned it." Really?

A former headteacher myself, I co-authored this five-year study with Dr Elizabeth Dowsett, a renowned consultant microbiologist. It was published in 1997 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and is the largest study of ME ever carried out, covering a school roll of 333,000.

All the cases counted had been diagnosed by medical professionals and the typical pattern of broken attendance due to relapse revealed all too clearly why pupils could not attend school. Brain scans clearly show that this illness, formerly called Atypical Polio and thought by microbiologists to be a relation of polio myelitis, causes oxygen deprivation upon physical or mental effort due to impaired blood flow to the brain. It also causes low cortisol (the opposite of depression), abnormalities of muscle function and low pulse pressure. The sickest children are partially paralysed, suffer from seizures and have to be tube-fed.

We have moved beyond the days when thoughtless, cruel jibes at families struggling to care for a child who is disabled and in pain are acceptable. I am ashamed that Pat Sweeney calls himself a member of my profession.

Until I read this piece, I thought that When Dinosaurs Walked the Earth was just the title of a television programme. To find such monumental ignorance in a headteacher whose pupils may themselves suffer from ME and other disabling conditions is frightening.

I shall be drawing the column to the attention of the Scottish Executive Education Department and to Her Majesty's Inspectors. The Standards in Scotland's Schools Act incorporates a duty to provide education out of school for those too sick to attend.

I trust that the inspectors will pay particular attention to the service provided by Holy Rood High School.

Jane Colby

Dakyn Drive




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