Misattributions and the Consequences

Doctors in Bitter Row Over Case of ME Girl

The Scotsman 28 August 1998 - Stephen Breen

Experts back complaint of mother who fears her daughter will be taken away.

A MOTHER has been threatened with her child being taken into care because she disagreed with medical professionals over her daughter's treatment.

The handling of the case has led to a bitter row within the medical community, resulting in one doctor preparing a complaint to the General Medical Council because he is so angry about the way the woman has been treated. The mother, a former social worker living in East Lothian, was so upset by the prospect of her daughter being taken into care that she took an overdose of pills and collapsed in February.

Dr Dayeel Goh, a consultant paediatrician at Edenhall Hospital, Musselburgh, referred the child's case to the Reporter to the Children's Panel in East Lothian in February after rows with the girl's mother over treatment. The Reporter is now deciding whether to hold a panel hearing which could result in the 12-year-old girl being taken into care. The woman was sure her daughter was suffering from the chronic fatigue syndrome myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) but Dr Goh disagreed. The mother contacted two experts in the field whose diagnosis was that her daughter was suffering from ME and that she was correct to object to the treatment offered to the child.

There is a debate in the medical community about whether ME exists among children. Many professionals refuse to believe it exists and some of those who do believe it is a psychological disorder rather than a physical condition. A doctor and a consultant paediatrician who diagnosed the girl as suffering from ME have accused Dr Goh of arrogance and insensitivity. They say the woman is a loving and supportive parent who has been put under unnecessary strain by Dr Goh because she has dared to question the doctor's professional judgement.

Dr Goh visited the child once at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh and at the child's East Lothian home.

When the child was was sent to the paediatric psychiatric unit at Newcastle General Hospital for three weeks last year her condition deteriorated so rapidly that she left in a wheelchair. When Dr Goh refused to diagnose the girl as suffering from ME, her mother took her to one of the country's leading ME specialists, Dr Nigel Speight, a consultant paediatrician at Dryburn Hospital in Durham. Dr Speight confirmed the diagnosis of Dr David Mason Brown, from North Berwick, that the girl suffered from ME.

Her mother alleged that Dr Goh had refused to refer her daughter to Dr Speight for a second opinion. Dr Mason Brown, the honorary medical officer of`the Edinburgh ME self-help group, who helped to prepare a letter in support of the woman for the Reporter to the Children's Panel, is preparing a dossier of complaint about the case for the GMC.

He said paediatric specialists in Edinburgh refuse to believe ME exists and ignore the concerns of parents who believe their child is suffering from the syndrome. This has resulted in parents having to take their children 200 miles Durham and to use their own money for travelling.

Dr Mason Brown said yesterday: "There has been a lack of compassion, empathy and understanding. My own belief is that it is the job of the doctor to heal and to build a relationship with the family, not destroy the family as has happened here.

"I am preparing a dossier to give to the GMC because we have got to deal with this on a national basis. The GMC has got to produce giudelines and action should be taken against people like Dr Goh.

"They should be told that families and patients have freedom of choice and what they are doing is totally inappropriate and an abuse of power."

The mother said yesterday "We have been treated inhumanely. It has been a dreadful injustice. I believe I am being punished for not being totally compliant to every demand made of me by the medical profession.

"They want to take away from me my rights as a parent over the the types of treatment my child receives, with always the threat that if I don't comply they will remove my child from me into care. It is also to warn off other parents in a similar position not to stand up to the medical profession."

Dr Speight has written to the Reporter to the Children's Panel in support of the woman. He told The Scotsman: "In this case and others that I know of, the net effect of the actions amounts to virtual emotional abuse of families and children by professionals.

A spokeswoman at Edenhall Hospital said that Dr Goh was unable to comment.


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