Recognition of Fibromyalgia as a Disability — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 10:48 am on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 10:48 am, 15th January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Bailey. I begin by paying tribute to Adrienne, who I believe is with us today in the Public Gallery. It is through her persistence and determination to use the mechanism of petitioning Parliament that we are here in Westminster Hall today. It is a really good example of how people all around our country can ensure that their voices are heard in this place, so I congratulate her on that.

I also pay tribute to Toby Perkins, because he picked up on that opportunity and worked with his constituent. I am very pleased to say, as my hon. Friend Sir David Amess and everybody else has done, that the hon. Member for Chesterfield is a champion. It is great that he has championed this cause, raised awareness of the issue and made sure that all of our public services are doing everything they can to help people with fibromyalgia, because we have heard today how absolutely debilitating the condition can be and how many people it affects.

Today has been a really good opportunity to build on the work that has been done with the petition and have this debate. I share the frustration that so many people have mentioned that we do not have time to address all the issues that have been raised and hear from the many people who have written to Members across the House because they want their individual voice to be heard.

Before this debate, I extended an invitation to the hon. Member for Chesterfield to bring his constituent into the Department. What we are discussing is a cross-Government issue; it affects the Equalities Office, which is the custodian of the Equality Act 2010. There has been much discussion about what more we can do about health services and research, so I will ensure that, along with me as Minister responsible for the main disability benefits, we have Ministers from the relevant Departments at a roundtable and summit, so that we can properly work with the information that has been provided today and with the great organisations that are undertaking research and standing up for those with fibromyalgia.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Andrea Jenkyns, and to the wonderful husbands who have spoken about wives who are suffering. It is brave of Members of Parliament to stand up and talk so personally about situations that have such a detrimental impact on them. It is difficult for MPs to admit to any sort of weakness; we live in fear of our constituents thinking less of us for expressing that we have a condition or disability that might be perceived as a weakness. However, it is vital that people with disabilities and health conditions are in this place, because they have an important role to play in society. I am absolutely determined to ensure that we have a society in which we focus on what people can do rather than on what they cannot, and in which they are supported to reach their full potential.

I will now draw on some of the points I have been asked to raise. On the support in the health service, we have heard that it is clearly too intermittent. I know that there are good examples; colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care have told me that there are bespoke services for people with fibromyalgia, but we have heard from colleagues today that it is too much of a postcode lottery and that the services are not consistent. That stems from the fact, which has been recognised today, that it is a difficult condition to diagnose. Because the way in which fibromyalgia manifests is unique to each person, general practitioners want to ensure that they rule out the possibility of other conditions. We have heard so powerfully today that no two people are the same, so GPs, in the absence of a diagnostic tool, need to explore many different avenues before they can get to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.