Simon Wessely

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International-green-cross-health-and-safety-100px.jpg This article is part of the Health Portal project of Spinwatch.
Simon Wessely, born 1956 in Sheffield, is Professor of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at King’s and Maudsley Hospitals. According to his King College London web page “His research interests are in the grey areas between medicine and psychiatry, clinical epidemiology, psychiatric injury and military health ... has covered epidemiology, post traumatic stress, psychological debriefing, chronic fatigue syndrome, history, chronic pain, somatisation, Gulf War illness, military health and terrorism”. Wessely has published extensively on M.E/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, researching “many aspects of the illness, including biochemistry, epidemiology, history, immunology, neuroimaging, neurology, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, virology and other areas”.[1]

Wessely's wife is Dr Clare Gerada, Vice-Chair of Royal College of General Practitioners.[2]

Royal College of General Practitioners.[2] Wessely received a knighthood in 2013 for “services to military healthcare and psychological medicine”. [3]

Wessely has had grant funding of over £18,000,000 during his career. [4] Funders of his research include the Wellcome Trust, Department of Health, MRC, Institute of Social Psychiatry, the European Commission, National Institute of Health Research, Health Protection Agency, ESRC, Royal College of Psychiatrists. [5]

Science Media Centre

Wessely was a member of the scientific advisory board between 2002-2012. Funders that Wessely has professional links to include The Wellcome Trust, MRC, King’s College London, ESRC, Mebtal Health Foundation and the Mental Health Research Network.

Living Marxism links

Wessely was the first recipient of the Maddox Prize in 2012, Sense about Science’s new award presented for “Standing up for Science”. Wessely was chosen for “his ambition and courage in the field of ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) and Gulf War syndrome, and the way he has dealt bravely with intimidation and harassment when speaking about his work and that of colleagues.” [6] Wessely is also a trustee of Sense about Science. [4]

Wessely has contributed articles to Spiked.com, part of the Living Marxism network. His articles have covered the response to and public concern over anthrax attacks post 9/11 and arguing against trauma counseling for victims of the London bombings of 7 July 2005. [7]

Wessely was also a speaker at the Battle of Ideas festival in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011. The Battle of Ideas is run by the Institute of ideas. [8] He is also a judge for Debating Matters, another Institute of Ideas initiative – a national debating competition for school children. [9] Wessely also features in videos on the Worldbytes website, mainly from talks he has given at Battle of ideas events. Worldbytes is also connected to the LM network. [10] Wessely’s personal website lists all these organisations as related external links.

Communicating about science

Wessely has said “throughout my career I have been active in public engagement activities to improve public understanding, and hence support for, medicine, psychiatry and research”. [4] He lists his involvement with Sense about Science as part of this aim. He has also written many media articles for the Times newspaper.

Controversy

Gulf war syndrome

Wessely co-authored a report in 2002, based on research conducted at the Gulf War Illness Research Unit [GWIRU] which he set up. The research was funded by the Ministry of Defence and concluded that “health problems reported by veterans could not be blamed on vaccines used during the 1991 war”. Wessely, said that the research made it clear that the health effects suffered by soldiers who served in the 1st Gulf War were not associated with the brain or nervous system although veterans of Opertaion Desert Storm had poorer health than veterans of other conflicts. Wessely was quoted in the press as saying: "There is no smoking gun," he said. "There is no new disease that causes Gulf War Syndrome. There is a Gulf War health effect." The report was not well received by Gulf War veterans and criticism suggested the MoD funding had led to the “whitewash”. Scientific criticism also came from Malcolm Hooper, Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at Sunderland University: "For this survey not to find any evidence of neurological damage makes me very suspicious," he said. "I find this research unpersuasive and statistically insignificant." [11] Later research in the US concluded that Gulf War Syndrome is a “real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans”. That report, published in 2008 and compiled by “scientific experts and veterans serving on the congressionally mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses” identified the cause as “neurotoxic” exposure causally linked to “the ingestion of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills, given to protect troops from effects of nerve agents and exposure to dangerous pesticides used during the conflict”. [12] There is still no settled view on the causes of Gulf War Syndrome, but Wessely and the MoD maintain a similar position to that which they did in 2002, despite the conflicting research findings in the US. In 2011, in a BBC article Wessely said” "The evidence is incontrovertible that there is a Gulf War health effect," "Something to do with the Gulf has affected health and no-one serious has ever disputed that. "Is there a problem? Yes there is. Is it Gulf War Syndrome or isn't it? I think that's a statistical and technical question that's of minor interest." [13] Wessely has elsewhere said that mental health problems in all ex-military personnel is minimal, with 20% experiencing some psychological disturbance caused by missing the “camaraderie and support of life in the forces”, with only 3% developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and this isn’t caused by what they have seen or done in combat but rather "it's errors of omission or commission that lead to mental health problems - the feeling that they have let the side down or that they have been let down. He also listed inadequate downtime between spells of active duty and a difficult childhood as contributory factors. [14]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Wessely’s research in to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) has made him a controversial figure. When he was awarded the Maddox Prize in 2012 the reactions indicate the level of this controversy: “Malcolm Hooper, emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry at Sunderland University, said: "He's responsible for trying to make ME into a psychiatric condition when it's not. He has done very poor science." Another opponent, the Countess of Mar, said: "I was absolutely horrified when I read he'd won the award and I would like to see it retracted." Dr William Weir, a retired consultant physician who says ME is caused by a chronic viral infection, called the decision "almost satirical". "If the scientific data is properly examined it will be seen that Professor Wessely's doctrine is wrong and it will be proved to be wrong in about five years' time," he said.” [15] Wessely’s early research on the illness found it could be both physical and psychological, and did not find a viral link which contrasted with other research findings. His research also proposed behavioural treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy were the most successful treatments. The dearth of funding into the causes of CFS in the last 15 years has led some to criticise Wessely and his research as a contributory factor. [16] Wessely has said he has been “harassed, stalked and intimidated by fanatical lobby groups that dispute his findings”. [15]He stopped working in the field of CFS research over 10 years ago, but remains a central figure and his research is still quoted frequently in media articles.

==Career== [4]

  • 2010 – present: Vice Dean for Academic Psychiatry Institute of Psychiatry and South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust

Head: Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist: South London and Maudsley and King’s College NHS Trusts

  • 2009 – present: Professor of Psychological Medicine: Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London
  • 2001–2008: Director, Clinical Trials Unit, South London and Maudsley Trust and Institute of Psychiatry
  • 2001- present: Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry: British Army
  • 1996- present: Director: Gulf War Illness Research Unit, GKT School of Medicine/IOP, now known as King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR)
  • 1996-2009: Professor Epidemiological and Liaison Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London
  • 1994-96: Reader, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London
  • 1991–2006: Director, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Research Unit, GKT School of Medicine/IOP and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Service, South London & Maudsley Trust.
  • 1991-94: Senior Lecturer, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London
  • 1990-1991: Honorary Lecturer in Forensic Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry
  • 1988-1991: Wellcome Research Training Fellowship in Epidemiology. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine & Dept. of Forensic Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry
  • 1987 1988: Senior Registrar Rotation, Bethlem Royal & Maudsley Hospitals, National Hospital for Neurology
  • 1984 1987: SHO/Registrar in Psychiatry, Bethlem Royal & Maudsley Hospitals
  • 1982 1984: SHO in General Medicine, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • 1981 1982: House Surgeon, Northampton and House Physician, Oxford

==Government advisory positions== [4]

  • 2008- current: Mental Health and Employment High Level Steering Group
  • 2008 – current: Defence Scientific Advisory Committee (DSAC)
  • 2008 – current: Advisory Committee on Military Medicine
  • 2006 – 2009: Health and Society Advisory Group, Health Protection Agency and Emergency Response Group
  • 2006- 2008: Scientific Advisory Panel on Emergency Response

Affiliations, awards and publications

===Affiliations=== [4]

  • 1999: Member, Academy of Medical Sciences, elected to Council 2009
  • 1999: External reviewer NIH Portfolio of research into CFS
  • 2002: Organiser, Joint NATO/Russia Advanced Research Workshop in March 2002, to consider the social and psychological consequences of terrorism
  • 2002-07: Chair, NATO Advisory Committee on Social and Psychological Consequences of Terrorism
  • 2002: Visiting Chair in Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2005- 06: External reviewer of the Australian Centre for Veteran’s Health
  • 2010: Member, organizing committee, European Festival of Science (ESOF) Member European Science Foundation (ESF), Co investigator and/or external advisor on three current large US grants into military health.

Wessley has been on the committees of numerous grant-giving bodies, including Medical Research Council, Wellcome, Mental Health Foundation, Guy’s and Saint Thomas’ Charity Special Trustees.

===Awards=== [4]

  • 2009: Shortlisted for the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s award of Academic Psychiatrist of the Year
  • 2010: King’s Media Personality of the year

===Publications=== [4] Wessely has published over 600 research papers mainly in the areas of military health, unexplained symptoms and syndromes and clinical epidemiology.

Contact

Address:
3rd Floor
Department of Psychological Medicine
Weston Education Centre
Cutcombe Road,
London
SE5 9RJ


Phone:
Institute of Psychiatry: +44(0)20 7848 0002
Website:
http://www.iop.kcl.ac.uk/staff/profile/default.aspx?go=10206

Resources

Notes

  1. Kings College London Institute of Psychiatry Staff, accessed 21 November 2010
  2. The Royal College of General Practitioners About Us, accessed 21 November 2010
  3. 'Professor awarded knighthood for services to military healthcare’ GOV.UK, 15 January 2013, accessed 27 September 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Curriculum Vitae Simon Wessely’s website, accessed 4 September 2013
  5. Researchers; Simon Wessely Kings College London, accessed 27 September 2013
  6. 2012 John Maddox Prize Sense about Science, accessed 4 September 2013
  7. Author archive: Simon Wessely Spiked Online, accessed 4 September 2013
  8. Speaker: Professor Simon Wessely Battle of Ideas, accessed 27 September 2013
  9. Debating Matters National Final 2013 Debating Matters, accessed 27 September 2013
  10. Wessely Worldbytes, accessed 27 September 2013
  11. Gulf War report a whitewash veterans The Journal, 25 November 2002, accessed 4 September 2013
  12. Alan Silverlieb Gulf War illness is real, says new report CNN.com/Health, 9 December 2008, accessed 27 September 2013
  13. Caroline Hawley & Stuart Hughes Two decades on, battle goes on over 'Gulf War Syndrome' BBC news, 16 January 2011, accessed 27 September 2013
  14. Cassandra Jardine Fighting another battle after the war The Daily Telegraph, 15 December 2008, accessed 27 September 2013
  15. 15.0 15.1 Sanchez Manning ME: bitterest row yet in a long saga Independent, 25 November 2012, accessed 27 September 2013
  16. Jenny Hope Death threats to scientists who say ME may be ‘all in the mind’ Daily Mail, 30 July 2011, accessed 27 September 2013