I congratulate Toby Perkins on securing the debate and other hon. Members who have made contributions in a restricted time. Without a doubt, the subject is worthy of a three-hour debate, as the number of hon. Members present indicates.
My introduction to fibromyalgia has come through my constituents in my position as a local representative, a councillor, a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and now a Member of Parliament. My constituents have told me about the sensation of being in pain and feeling ill. One lady said that her day-to-day life was having her sight affected and having no energy.
Clearly, my heart went out to that constituent, not simply because she has a difficult life, with days where she cannot get out of bed, eat or even really drink, or simply because she is young, but because I want her to get so much more out of life than a daily battle to do the things that most of us can do, such as showering and basic hygiene care, but that she cannot. The diagnosis of fibromyalgia will not automatically entitle her to the help that she needs, which is why the debate is so important. She will have to fight another battle to have her illness and needs recognised and accepted. We all know what the issues are.
The specific treatment for fibromyalgia syndrome is a multidisciplinary approach that includes physical rehabilitation, access to hydrotherapy, psychological support, behavioural therapy and education sessions. Alongside that, the European League Against Rheumatism’s guidelines on the condition say that treatment should incorporate collaboration with a range of professionals, including pain specialists, psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. All that tells me how complex fibromyalgia is, with a lot of different departments managing a lot of different facets. It is little wonder, with respect to the Department and the Minister, of whom I am very fond, as she knows, that some people feel abandoned and alone in the middle of all of those people and departments. It is for them that we stand here today.
We want research and legislation. We need protection under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I conclude with a comment from a lady, who says:
“I know a lady who is an absolute whirlwind when she is well. She could be in my office cheering everyone up with a winning smile and charming personality and literally an hour later, she is wiped out and can’t move for days at a time. To expect this lady to be able to attend job centres weekly for hour-long job interviews without understanding that she physically cannot do this is absolutely absurd and yet she is not automatically entitled to ESA and other helps. To believe that she will”— by some miracle—
“be able to attend her PIP assessment on a certain day is a nonsense and yet she faces losing PIP if she doesn’t present herself to be assessed.”
It is because of people like her, and all those people who live a life of darkness and pain, who battle to live, to eat and to turn their lights on, that this debate is important.