Letters: No such illness

Sir: Claims that any kind of child abuse may result in death must be taken seriously, but to believe that a repetition of the Beverly Allitt killings is the inevitable outcome of lack of vigilance is at odds with the facts ("Official doubt over child harm disorder", 17 August).

The repeated claim that the serial killer Beverly Allitt was a Munchhausen syndrome by proxy case demonises many mothers whose only crime is to be struggling with children with difficult to diagnose and puzzling illnesses, perhaps genetic in origin. There are well documented cases of genuine illnesses being overlooked, left untreated and children suffering permanent harm because of a false allegation of MSBP.

It is interesting to note that paediatricans have shifted their ground in recent years from claiming that MSBP is common and under-reported to saying it is rare. It is in fact rarer than most uncommon childhood illnesses and, compared with the more common difficult to treat childhood illnesses, MSBP is so much rarer.

Paediatricians should admit that they cannot say what is wrong. There is no rational place in any of this for a latter-day witch-finder general to be accusing the mother of having a psychiatric disorder, which psychiatrists now seem to agree does not exist.

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