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NICE sets out steps NHS must take to implement ME/CFS guidelines

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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has issued an unprecedented implementation statement1 setting out the practical steps needed for its updated guideline on the diagnosis and management of myalgic encephalomyelitis (or encephalopathy)/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)2 to be implemented by the NHS.

Such statements are only issued when a guideline is expected to have a “substantial” impact on NHS resources, and this is thought to be the first. It outlines the additional infrastructure and training that will be needed in both secondary and primary care to ensure that the updated ME/CFS guideline, published in October 2021, can be implemented.

The statement is necessary because the 2021 guideline completely reversed the original 2007 guideline recommendations that people with mild or moderate ME/CFS be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET). Instead the guideline recommends that any physical activity or exercise programmes should only be considered for people with ME/CFS in specific circumstances and should begin by establishing the person’s physical activity capability at a level that does not worsen their symptoms. It also says a physical activity or exercise programme should only be offered on the basis that it is delivered or overseen by a physiotherapist in an ME/CFS specialist team and is regularly reviewed.

Although cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has sometimes been assumed to be a cure for ME/CFS, the guideline recommends it should only be offered to support people who live with ME/CFS to manage their symptoms, improve their functioning and reduce the distress associated with having a chronic illness.

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Source: BMJ, 16 May 2022

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