How To Get Medically Boarded for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

We’ve spoken at length about CFS in our past few articles, and it’s easy to see why sufferers can feel frustrated, ashamed, and stigmatised by this “invisible illness.”

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome very often shows a different face to individual sufferers, and the varying symptoms can wax and wane on a daily basis. These facts alone make it incredibly difficult to diagnose. They make it equally difficult to determine with a reasonable amount of certainty whether or not it qualifies as a disability, which in turn makes the process of medical boarding a tricky one for sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Getting Medically Boarded – The Facts

Medical boarding can be a protracted process. For employees suffering from a debilitating illness which renders them incapable of doing their job – and where alternative work arrangements are not feasible – the option of medical boarding can lighten the financial load they find themselves under.

From a legal perspective, employers need to consider Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act which states in part, “Incapacity: Ill health and injury.—(1)  Incapacity on the grounds of ill health or injury may be temporary or permanent. If an employee is temporarily unable to work in these circumstances, the employer should investigate the extent of the incapacity or the injury. If the employee is likely to be absent for a time that is unreasonably long in the circumstances, the employer should investigate all the possible alternatives short of dismissal. When alternatives are considered, relevant factors might include the nature of the job, the period of absence, the seriousness of the illness or injury and the possibility of securing a temporary replacement for the ill or injured employee. In cases of permanent incapacity, the employer should ascertain the possibility of securing alternative employment or adapting the duties or work circumstances of the employee to accommodate the employee’s disability.”

The process of determining the extent of your inability to perform your duties can be a lengthy and exhausting process. In an ideal world, if this is the case, your doctor will have diagnosed you with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and will write a letter recommending medical boarding, which you will then take to your employer. Should the rules of your employer’s fund allow for disability benefits then it’s likely an impartial panel of professionals will be required to confirm your doctor’s diagnosis.  Assuming that they are in agreement, your request for medical boarding will be granted and you will be paid a permanent or temporary disability allowance, (or a lump sum) depending on their decision.

Where Things Get Tricky

South Africa is one of the only countries that allows insurers to pay out lump sum disability payments. This, coupled with the fact that “disability” has lost its stigma for some who see it as an easy way out of work, has resulted in stricter measures being taken on requests for medical boarding – notably for CFS.

As we have discussed in previous articles, determining whether a sufferer of CFS is genuinely disabled and if so, on a permanent or temporary basis, takes a lot of digging.

The SA Medical Association and The World Health Organisation recognise CFS as a “debilitating” condition. They have set out helpful and very specific guidelines for diagnosis, which assists medical practitioners as well as relieving the burden of false claims on insurance companies.

Some of these guidelines offered in an IOL article on this debilitating illness are as follows:

  • Other conditions with similar symptoms must have been excluded. These could include major depression, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism or cardiac dysfunctions.
  • Minor symptoms will include headaches, dizziness, muscle and joint pain, insomnia and memory loss.
  • The sufferer must have experienced persistent or relapsing, debilitating fatigue lasting at least six months. This fatigue is not caused by exertion and is not helped significantly by rest.

With an estimated 60 different symptoms experienced by CFS sufferers, most of them present in other illnesses, it’s easy to see why getting medically boarded for CFS can be a long-drawn-out experience and an exhausting process of elimination.

The good news is that CFS is receiving more exposure and foundations have been set up globally to research to better understand this illness. Here in South Africa, we can seek support and information from The ME CFS Foundation.

As of this writing, there is no known cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but there are many ways to alleviate the symptoms in order to enjoy a better quality of life. I am committed to helping CFS sufferers and have many years experience in treating this disease. We take a holistic approach to health and wellness, and do not just treat symptoms.

Dr. Steven Gunn
Author: Dr. Steven Gunn

Dr Steven Gunn (MB.ChB.BSc.CVIT.) Integrative Medicine Physician and General Practitioner at LifeXMed Clinic in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa. He has studied in South Africa, the UK, Germany and Latvia EU and practiced Emergency Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery in London and the UK . He holds a BSc Science Degree in Clinical Psychology and Microbiology and a MBChB Medical qualifications. Dr Gunn has a special interest in anti-ageing medicine, cancer treatment, enhancement of mental and physical performance, nutrition and innovative technology including Cancer Viro-Immunotherapy and Integrative Medicine.