I congratulate Toby Perkins on raising this subject. Frankly, until he became interested, we had not spent too much time on it. Over the years there have been battles to hear voices on autism, dyslexia and ME, but it has taken the hon. Gentleman’s raising the subject to get so many colleagues here this morning.
We all know people who, when asked how they are, go into great detail about having this and that wrong with them. We call them hypochondriacs. However, there is a great danger that people with fibromyalgia are somehow not recognised. It is a rotten illness. Some 2.1 million people suffer from it—one in 20 people—and women are seven times more likely than men to experience it. It is awful.
I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the hon. Member for Chesterfield should be declared the fibromyalgia champion, on a non-party basis. Now that he has started the ball rolling, he should lead on this subject and we should follow. I will not repeat many of the things he said, but I absolutely agree on the importance of recognising fibromyalgia as a disability under the Equality Act and understanding the debilitating and long-term effects on sufferers’ lives. For those living with this painful chronic disease, lack of awareness leads not only to many suffering in silence, but to their often receiving inadequate support and treatment.
I also say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I found out what we are doing in Southend, with regard to fibromyalgia provision, and it is not brilliant. We have a chronic fatigue syndrome service across Essex, which also takes referrals from GPs for other forms of fatigue, not only CFS or ME. There is not a single streamlined resource in the Southend area, although three departments provide a service to fibromyalgia patients, meaning that they have different routes to access services. However, it is not really a niche service. I am sure that other hon. Members have had similar experiences.
We have heard about the waiting time for diagnoses and the lack of understanding of GPs. It is also important to ensure that patients themselves have a better understanding of the condition. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield said, we are unfortunately struggling to find a cure and to understand how this happens. I highlight the importance of research in improving the lives of fibromyalgia patients. So much about the condition is still unknown. We do not even have a clear understanding of its cause and, more critically, there is no known cure. We should certainly invest in research. With the right understanding, investment and attention, we can do more to ensure that fibromyalgia gets the treatment it deserves.
I have the highest regard for my hon. Friend the Minister. She will not perform any miracles today. She will agree with all colleagues who speak. However, I am getting a little frustrated about action. That is what I am really asking for. The Health and Social Care Secretary spoke about the 10-year plan. Will my hon. Friend say something in that regard, and cheer us all up by saying that the Government take this illness seriously and have a plan on which they intend to deliver?