Chronically ill Romford man's fight for diagnosis after being told problem is psychological

Chris Joslin

Chris Joslin was told for years that his symptoms were caused by mental illness. He turned out to have a neurological disorder. - Credit: Ken Mears

A Romford man with a chronic illness has said he felt “gaslighted” for years by doctors who said his symptoms were caused by mental illness.

Chris Joslin, 37, says he spent his life savings on private treatments and appointments because doctors stopped investigating possible physical ailments.

When he obtained his medical records, they showed his GP surgery had written that he was suffering from a “possible delusional disorder” or “psychotic illness”.

But he has now been diagnosed with a neurological condition.

“The last four years have been a very traumatic experience,” he said.

“Luckily, I’m quite strong-willed. If it was someone else, they might have ended up believing it and taking psychiatric medications they don’t need.”

However, investigations have found there were no failings in his care. 

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Magda Smith, chief medical officer at the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust (BHRUT), said she is pleased Chris is "closer to reaching a formal diagnosis" and wishes him well.

Symptoms

“I started feeling unwell in 2017,” said Chris. “Before that I was very fit and active. I did football, running, tennis.

"Suddenly, I was coming home from work and falling asleep for three or four hours. Previously, I would come home from work and go and play football.”

Other symptoms included light-headedness, severe abdominal pain and passing blood.

His GPs ordered routine tests, which all came back fine.

But, said Chris: “I kept going back. I was saying: ‘You’re telling me it’s fine, but something is not right.’”

Chris Joslin at home

When Chris read his medical records, he discovered his GPs had suggested he was 'delusional' or 'psychotic'. - Credit: Ken Mears

Mental illness

By June 2019, staff at Western Road Medical Centre, Romford, had formed the view that his problems were psychological.

They said they would not recommend any further tests to find physical causes and referred him to a mental health service.

He was diagnosed with somatoform disorder – a mental illness which causes sufferers to feel physical symptoms.

In 2020, Queen's Hospital neurology consultant wrote: “He has somatoform disorder with health-related anxiety. His management rests outside the neurology clinic.”

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A consultant at Queen's Hospital said Chris's illness was psychological, not neurological. But Chris has since been diagnosed with a neurological condition. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

In a 2020 email, a GP wrote: “I feel that you have a depressive, anxiety disorder that explains every symptom you have experienced.”

Chris said: “I was having very physical symptoms.

“It was impacting my whole life. I couldn’t go shopping without nearly fainting. I collapsed at football. But all they wanted to talk about was mental health.”

New diagnosis

Chris switched GPs, moving to the St Edwards Medical Centre, which he said has been “exceptional”.

A consultant at Barts Hospital has now found he has dysautonomia – a condition affecting the nervous system.

Common symptoms include dizziness, balance problems, fatigue, pain, weakness and digestive issues.

“His sympathetic system is unable to restrain itself as we would see in healthy normals,” the consultant wrote. “This is a chronic condition without a cure.”

Chris Joslin

Chris said he hoped his story might help other people struggling to get to the bottom of their medical conditions. - Credit: Ken Mears

Chris said he hoped his story might help others.

“In my opinion it was inhumane, telling me that I was psychologically unbalanced," he said. "It sent me to the edge. It was like medical gaslighting.

“I’ve had to fight tooth and nail. It’s taken me four years and cost £20,000 on private appointments and treatments.

“Every complaint I file, they say the doctors followed all the rules and did nothing wrong. In my opinion, the complaints process is not fit for purpose.

“How many other people could this be happening to? Where will they end up?

“Somebody else could be sent to the verge of questioning their own sanity.”

Western Road Medical Centre, Romford

The Western Road Medical Centre declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality. - Credit: Google Streetview

The NHS

The Western Road Medical Centre declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.

Ms Smith at BHRUT said a “full investigation” had been carried out but “did not identify any failings in the care provided”.

She added: “We are pleased to hear that he is closer to reaching a formal diagnosis and wish him well in the ongoing management of his condition.”

A spokesperson for the NHS in London said it had “thoroughly reviewed Mr Joslin’s concerns and advised that no failings were identified”.

The Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman said it followed General Medical Council (GMC) guidance and consulted an experienced doctor over Chris's complaint, but "did not find any failings".

It said: "We appreciate it has been frustrating for Mr Joslin to get a satisfactory diagnosis and hope he is now able to access the care he needs."

For more, read:

How did your Havering GP surgery score in NHS patient survey?

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