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Women go undiagnosed, accused of ‘hysteria’ - CII report

18 June 2021

Disabled women with chronic illness are frequently gaslit by medical professions, undiagnosed, and accused of hysteria, according to Chronic Illness Inclusion (CII).

The data will be submitted to the Department for Health and Social Care for its Women’s Health Strategy consultation.

CII received nearly 800 response to a survey about the healthcare experiences of disabled women with energy-limiting chronic illness and chronic pain.

Catherine Hale, who heads CII said: “We had no funding to do it, but the issue of what’s called ‘medical gaslighting’ and the damage it does, not just medically but on the whole of our lives, is probably the most burning injustice for the chronic illness community.

“In this report we argue that the NHS’ construct of Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS), which conflates MUS with somatisation and hysteria, produces systemic disbelief in our lived experience of illness and impairment. And our survey findings demonstrate the damage that this systemic disbelief has on the whole of our lives, including by creating barriers to disability equality and inclusion.

“The MUS framework and related services in the NHS are explicitly about cutting healthcare costs by diverting patients who take up too much GP surgery time away from biomedical investigation and into psychologist-led services where their physical symptoms are systemically discredited. There is virtually no evaluation of these services from the service-user perspective. Others have critiqued the MUS construct from within the philosophical tradition of ‘epistemic injustice’ and bioethics (See this article by Diane O Leary and Keith Geraghty.)

“This report is just 10 pages, as per the DHSC limit, but we hope its findings will stimulate further service user-led research into this hidden area of injustice for disabled women.”

Read the report here (PDF).