September 29, 2017, marks a very important day in the struggle to achieve recognition and improved care for people living with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia (FM) and environmental sensitivities/ multiple chemical sensitivity (ES/MCS). The release by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care of the interim Phase 1 report by the Task Force on Environmental Health (Time for Leadership: Recognizing and Improving Care for those with ME/CFS, FM and ES/MCS) is a milestone and a breakthrough, both politically, with the support that Minister Hoskins has displayed for the task force’s early work, and also for its concrete policy recommendations, which are early steps meant to lay the foundation for an effective, patient-centred system of care that we all know is vital for the wellbeing of people who struggle with these conditions.
What the task force recommends below validates and affirms work that MEAO and AOHC have supported for years, such as the main objectives proposed in the joint business plan for An Ontario Centre of Excellence in Environmental Health (OCEEH) put forward in October 2013. This is, in many ways, the beginning of the culmination of those efforts.
Among the first steps the Task Force on Environmental Health asked the government to take are to:
- Change the Conversation and Increase Understanding. In order to dispel misperceptions and myths about ME/CFS, FM and ES/MCS, and to reinforce the serious debilitating nature of these conditions, the task force recommends the Minister make a formal statement recognizing the conditions. They also call for academic chair positions to be created and funded to focus on research, and that OHIP fee codes be updated to recognize all three conditions at the clinical level.
- Develop a Common Clinical Understanding. The task force has advised the Ministry to convene an expert panel to agree on clinical case definitions and practice guidelines for all three conditions.
- Lay the foundation for a patient-centred care system. To do this, the task force calls on the Ministry to allocate funds towards creating pathways of care for people with ME/CFS, FM and ES/MCS, so both patients and providers have clarity on both how to get to a diagnosis, and what happens after. They also recommend that the Ministry work with hospitals and long-term care homes to ensure that these crucial spaces can accommodate and be accessible to those managing ME/CFS, FM and ES/MCS.
- Increase the availability of providers who understand ME/CFS, FM and ES/MCS. Here, the task force asks that the Ministry continue to fund the “enhanced skills program” for third year medical residents in Clinical Environmental Health.
In the coming months, we will look to Minister Hoskins and the Ontario government for action on the task force’s first round of recommendations. Addressing barriers that people face while living with ME/CFS, FM and ES/MCS requires a comprehensive approach to illness and wellbeing that the mainstream health system often misapprehends. But these first fledgling steps towards recognition, funding research and education, and transforming attitudes and health care spaces will be the bedrock on which a new approach can be built. AOHC and MEAO are committed to pushing forward the vital work of the Task Force on Environmental Health.