I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the interest that he has taken in this important subject. I can tell him that I am minded to appoint a national clinical director, but I am seeking the advice of the National Quality Board, which is currently focusing on the subject of musculoskeletal diseases.
I am delighted by my right hon. Friend's positive response, but will he tell us how quickly he expects to receive that advice, and what the schedule will be for the appointment of a clinical director?
It may be difficult to do in a matter of days, but I wanted to give my hon. Friend a clear commitment. I pay tribute to the work that he has done in raising awareness of the cost to our economy of failure to provide early treatment and diagnosis of musculoskeletal problems, particularly rheumatoid arthritis. Those who suffer from that condition take an average of 40 days' sick leave a year.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's push to ensure that the NHS does a better job in focusing on such conditions. As I have said, I am minded to appoint a clinical director, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the campaign that he has led.
The Secretary of State will be aware that some musculoskeletal conditions can be relieved through the use of herbal medicine and acupuncture. Is he aware that Hydes herbal clinic in Leicester has written to me again, wondering why the Government have not responded to the consultation on the statutory regulation of herbal medicine? Will they do so next week, in the last gasp of their tenure?
It is fitting that the hon. Gentleman should make us think about complementary therapies during our last session of health questions. I believe that he was once described as the hon. Member for Holland and Barrett, but his interests are far broader than that: he really represents the whole field of complementary and alternative therapies. I should like to say more about the matter that he has raised before the end of the current Parliament.
I am particularly delighted to hear the news that there is to be a clinical director-does that mean that he will be a bones tsar?-because I am aware of the cost to the economy of people who are out of work because of musculoskeletal problems. The number of people receiving incapacity benefit and the new employment support allowance has proved resistant to reduction simply because there is not enough focus on returning people with such problems to work and getting them moving.
My hon. Friend is right. That is why we asked Dame Carol Black to conduct a review. She published "Working for a healthier tomorrow", which proposed initiatives such as the "fit note" to help us to encourage people to return to work as soon as possible. Dame Carol's work also led to our fit for work service pilots.
This is a crucial issue for the country. There are 26,000 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis every year, and 690,000 people in the United Kingdom are believed to be living with the condition. If it is not detected and treated early, the damage to the joints can lead to severe disability and restrict people's ability to work in the long term. My hon. Friend is right to say that we should focus on the issue, as is my hon. Friend Graham Stringer. That is why I am minded to appoint a national clinical director.