There's a great line in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations: "Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule." It was said by the gruff lawyer, Mr Jaggers, and I've always thought it was pretty good rule for life.
I had it in mind when I decided to take up the cause of Lyme disease sufferers in Cheltenham shortly after I was first elected. Despite have their symptoms written off in certain quarters, several came to see me with evidence of their diagnosis, often from reputable clinicians overseas. And so, as regular readers of this column will know, I began banging the drum for improved awareness and treatment of the condition here at home. Lyme is a bacterial infection caused by tick bites which, if left untreated, can lead to lifelong symptoms including crippling pain, fatigue and brain fog. There are at least 2 - 3,000 new cases in England and Wales each year, although that's probably an underestimate because there is no requirement for clinicians to report the number of cases.
I was very struck by the dreadful, life-changing stories of people I met. Young and old people across town had had their lives gravely damaged. So I wanted to see what more could be done to prevent another generation being struck down in the same way.
That’s why I was delighted this week that the peripheral went mainstream. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has now published draft guidance for GPs and hospital clinicians on diagnosis and treatment, and has also called for a large study into the condition in the UK. Both have been key parts of the campaign and represent a major step forward in combatting the disease. It gives hope for today's sufferers and I am grateful to all those who have helped campaign here in Cheltenham, as well as former rugby international Matt Dawson who spoke out about his experience of the disease.
In other news, I was privileged to attend the 103rd birthday last week of Margaret 'Peggy' Smith at Morris Court. I met Peggy two years ago, and last year she came on one of my tours to Parliament. I don't know for sure what her secret is, but her (inexhaustible!) interest in people and the world around her must play its part. Is Peggy Cheltenham's most senior citizen? Or perhaps you know of someone more senior still? Do let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org .