It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate Toby Perkins on securing the debate.
I am here today because Julie Britten, my constituent from the Bath fibro group, came to see me a couple of weeks ago with her partner and very movingly described what fibromyalgia is. We have heard today from two hon. Members whose wives are suffering from the condition. We need to listen to the carers, too, because they feel as helpless, if not more, to see a loved one suffering. They also suffer from the fact that a lot of people, because they do not understand what fibromyalgia is, suggest that it is made up. Suddenly something has changed in their family member and they do not really understand why. That helplessness is one of the most painful things that the sufferers themselves and the carers who live with loved ones have to put up with.
We have already heard a number of points about the condition. As was mentioned, in Bath we have an excellent facility, the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Disease, previously known as the Royal Mineral Water Hospital. It is a very old hospital, locally known as “the Min”. Again, because it is not a rheumatic condition, but far more complicated, we need to find facilities where we can directly address fibromyalgia as a disease, rather than tiptoeing around what it is. The main difficulty is that the pain that people with fibromyalgia feel is not directly caused by damage or injury to the area that hurts. Instead, as I understand it, the problem lies in how the brain and the nervous system process pain from that area, so it is complicated.
Fibromyalgia is recognised in the Equality Act 2010 as a disability and an invisible illness, but again, because of the uncertainty, the most important thing that we in this place can do is push for more research and funding for research into the condition. That is at the heart of ending the uncertainty.
Hon. Members may know that I am working on eating disorders, and a similar picture has emerged on a couple of occasions. People do not understand fibromyalgia, which leads to stigma, and our rules and regulations do not fit with it. We need more funding to get to the bottom of what fibromyalgia really is and understand it, so we can end the suffering not just of the people who feel that incredibly debilitating pain, but of their loved ones who also live with it and are affected by it. I ask the Minister to make sure that there is more funding for understanding fibromyalgia.