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The impact of CFS/ME on employment and productivity in the UK: a cross-sectional study based on the CFS/ME national outcomes database

Simon M Collin1, Esther Crawley1*, Margaret T May2, Jonathan AC Sterne2, William Hollingworth2 and UK CFS/ME National Outcomes Database

Author affiliations

1 School of Social & Community Medicine, Centre for Child & Adolescent Health, University of Bristol, Oakfield House, Oakfield Grove, BS8 2BN, UK

2 School of Social & Community Medicine, Canynge Hall, 39 Whatley Road, BS8 2PS, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Health Services Research 2011, 11:217  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-217

Published: 15 September 2011



Few studies have investigated factors associated with discontinuation of employment in patients with CFS/ME or quantified its impact on productivity.


We used patient-level data from five NHS CFS/ME services during the period 01/04/2006-31/03/2010 collated in the UK CFS/ME National Outcomes Database. We used logistic regression to identify factors associated with discontinuation of employment. We estimated UK-wide productivity costs using patient-level data on duration of illness before assessment by a CFS/ME service, duration of unemployment, age, sex and numbers of patients, in conjunction with Office for National Statistics income and population data.


Data were available for 2,170 patients, of whom 1,669 (76.9%) were women. Current employment status was recorded for 1,991 patients (91.8%), of whom 811 patients (40.7%) were currently employed and 998 (50.1%) had discontinued their employment "because of fatigue-related symptoms". Older age, male sex, disability, fatigue, pain, and duration of illness were associated with cessation of employment. In a multivariable model, age, male sex, and disability remained as independent predictors. Total productivity costs among the 2,170 patients due to discontinuation of employment in the years preceding assessment by a specialist CFS/ME service (median duration of illness = 36 months) were £49.2 million. Our sample was equivalent to 4,424 UK adults accessing specialist services each year, representing productivity costs to the UK economy of £102.2 million. Sensitivity analyses suggested a range between £75.5-£128.9 million.


CFS/ME incurs huge productivity costs amongst the small fraction of adults with CFS/ME who access specialist services.