vu: Caroline Richmond
Caroline Richmond has rightly
been criticised in numerous rapid responses to the BMJ for her spiteful,
immoderate and disgraceful obituary of Dr David Horrobin in the 19
th April 2003 issue, as has Dr Richard Smith, editor of the BMJ, for
sinking to such depths in publishing it.
Readers have responded with
alacrity to Richmond’s bitterness and obvious bias: they have commented
on her “bitchiness” and offensiveness, on the unfair and undeserved nature
of her comments and on the hostile and venomous nature of them; they have
also commented on Smith’s foolish ill-judgment in asking Richmond to write
this obituary and for publishing what she wrote; they have expressed dismay
that the BMJ could sanction such an obituary from a non-medically qualified
individual who clearly had an axe to grind.
Richard Smith’s defence for
publishing such unwarranted denigration is that “it is a tribute to someone
to have negative things said about them in an obituary”, which seems as
irrational as his support for the view that a classified neurological disorder
such as ME (a chronic condition likened by the Chief Medical Officer to
multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease) is a “non-disease”: it will
not be readily be forgotten that it was the BMJ under Richard Smith which
last year ran the series on “non-diseases” in which psychiatrist Simon Wessely
was closely involved and which listed “ME” as a non-disease.
David Horrobin (professor of
both medical physiology and of medicine) was a kind, generous, warm and
great man who founded the company Scotia to produce capsules of evening
primrose oil because he was aware of the benefits of essential fatty acids,
an “alternative” approach which many people with ME have found helpful;
indeed, the UK ME Association is currently involved in a major trial of
Caroline Richmond on the other
hand has, since the 1980s, orchestrated and run a vindictive campaign against
anyone and anything which she perceives as any kind of threat to pharmaceutical
supremacy in medicine, particularly against anyone to do with “alternative
and / or complementary” interventions and in her view, that included David
The UK ME community will need
no reminding of her vitriolic outpourings over the years in the medical
press against people with ME and of her crowing support for the psychiatrists
who claim that ME is simply a “belief” that one is ill with what they designate
a “non-disease”, but for those who are not familiar with her track record,
here is a short synopsis.
In London in 1988, Richmond,
a medical journalist whose writings often seemed to convey that she was
herself a medical practitioner, was instrumental in founding the Campaign
Against Health Fraud (now a charity named HealthWatch); it used to be known
for its zealous views which were antagonistic towards alternative and complementary
medicine and towards those who practice or believe in environmental illness
such as chemical sensitivity (see Hansard (Lords) 10 May 1995:66-68).
It is also recorded in Hansard that this campaigning organisation has received
funding from both the pharmaceutical and medical insurance industries (see
Hansard (Lords) 28 April 1993:364-382). In its campaign literature, it
states that its aims are
“to OPPOSE diagnoses…that
may encourage unnecessary treatments for
and to PROMOTE …better understanding by the
public and the media
that valid clinical trials (i.e. trials of pharmaceutical
drugs) are the best
way of ensuring public protection”.
For the avoidance of doubt and
because this campaign claim has been denied by officers of HealthWatch,
a copy of the relevant document produced by the campaign itself accompanies
these notes and can be viewed at...
The same HealthWatch document
lists psychiatrist Simon Wessely as a “leading member of the campaign”.
Quite certainly, Simon Wessely unceasingly promotes his belief that ME does
Also listed as a leading member
of the campaign is psychiatrist Christopher Bass, formerly of Kings’ College,
London and now at Oxford; Dr Charles Shepherd of the ME Association is a
long-time member of the campaign. The ME community may not be aware that
Nick Ross (of “Crimewatch” fame) is one of its founders, a fact of which
he claims to be justifiably proud, yet it was not mentioned when he was
the subject of “This is your life” on BBC television relatively recently.
Caroline Richmond’s views on
ME echo those of the Wessely School; from the earliest days of the campaign
she was indefatigable in her attacks upon those suffering from ME / multiple
chemical sensitivity and the HealthWatch perspective on ME owes much to
Richmond’s prejudice against sufferers.
So that people can form their
own judgement about Caroline Richmond’s provenance, some illustrations of
her published writings are provided:
“(ME) is a new name for an
old disease…it’s a British disease, unknown in the new world…The illness
behaviour of patients and the diagnostic behaviour of doctors are susceptible
to fashion, and they are a part of it…neurasthenia (and) the vapours have
lost their organic associations and imply states of personality or mind”.
“There is no evidence to suggest
that ME patients are immunocompromised (but) many patients have succeeded
in getting disability pensions. Advice should be given to enable them to
cope with their symptoms, gradually increase exercise tolerance and return
to normality”. (2)
“Many patients arrive in the
consulting room with a firm attachment to a dramatic diagnosis made, not
by a neurologist or a virologist, but by themselves…Fortunately, this deadlock
has now been broken by two recent papers which argue for a more constructive
approach” (Here, Richmond promotes Wessely’s paper “Postviral fatigue syndrome:
time for a new approach”: BMJ 1988:296:696-698). (3)
really serious and is guaranteed to impress friends and relatives of sufferers….while
patients’ groups funded research into possible organic origins of the disease,
more and better research was emerging from psychiatric departments (but)
patients wanted to be referred to neurologists, who didn’t like seeing them”.
“The battle for better understanding of chronic fatigue
syndrome seems almost won. This has been achieved by intelligent strategy
from the royal colleges and by high-quality briefings organised by the Royal
Society’s programme on the public understanding of science. The colleges
say that the best treatments are a programme involving a gradual increase
in activity combined with cognitive behavioural therapy…at the press conference,
for once, there was little disruption from the ME lobby, which has unpleasantly
lobbied the media for years…the lobbyists were disappointed by the emphasis
toward psychologic factors and away from viruses”. (5)
From her latest salvo fired
in her obituary of David Horrobin, it seems that Miss Richmond is still
intent on playing the HealthWatch card.
For the record, this is the
same Caroline Richmond who, when aged 51 and unmarried, brought her surgeon
before the General Medical Council for removing her womb allegedly without
her consent when he was trying to act in her best interests; despite her
action against him, he was not struck off the medical register.
Princess Aurora and the wandering womb. Caroline Richmond.
Myalgic encephalomyelitis: a new name for old symptoms.
Caroline Richmond. Pulse 14 October 1989:92
Finding a new approach in practice to the postviral fatigue syndrome.
Caroline Richmond. Pulse 2 April 1988
(4) What is ME? Caroline Richmond. The Oldie:
Mad cows and Englishmen: the aftermath of a BSE scare.
Caroline Richmond. Canadian
Medical Association Journal 1997:156:1043-1044
Dr Shepherd has contacted me and has
asked me to post this short response to the above article.
22nd April 2003
Re: Caroline Richmond (www.meaction.org.uk/Caroline_Richmond_Deja_vu.htm)
Somebody has obviously gone to a great deal of effort in producing this
critique of the medical journalist Caroline Richmond.
As I also merit a brief mention, could I just point out that although I
am a fairly active member of HealthWatch (as is Ms Richmond) I have always
been vigorous in making my disagreements with her quite clear in public
(ie two highly critical electronic responses to the BMJ obituary and responses
to medical journals regarding her previous items about ME/CFS) whenever
I have felt that her comments have been inaccurate, unhelpful, or even offensive.
Just because two people belong to the same organisation it doesn't mean
that they either agree with each other on specific issues, or even like
each other. I'm sure the same situation sometimes even occurs on MEActionUK!
Dr Charles Shepherd