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

I am really tempted to give way to lots of colleagues, but the more I do the less time I have to address the issues that have already been raised. I have taken a number of interventions, but as the clock is against me I will now press on and try to address as many of those issues as possible, bearing in mind that there will be a follow-up meeting and, as always, I will write to those Members whose particular concerns I do not address in my few remaining minutes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West invited me to invest. We clearly have long-term investment in the NHS, and plans for significant extra investment over the next 10 years have recently been communicated, with a disproportionate amount going into primary care and community services. Since each person is affected in such different ways, the pathway and range of care that people need will largely be co-ordinated in the community, with GPs. The new investment gives us hope, but alongside it we need to ensure that there is both education and training, and improved pathways. The one message I have heard clearly today—I know this from cases in my own constituency, of working with women affected by fibromyalgia—is that people are ping-ponged around the system, between physical and mental health services, with no joined-up care pathway. With so many other chronic conditions, the NHS has got so much better at having evidence-based pathways, so that once people have their diagnosis they understand the pathway they are on, and those who are able to support them know what support is available.

We need to take away and work on so much more from this debate. As many Members have said, it is about getting the ball rolling, ensuring that voices are heard loud and clear, and that we work across Government and the House to improve the quality of life of people with fibromyalgia.

On the benefit system, I want to assure people that fibromyalgia is recognised as a disability under the 2010 Act. It is really important for people to understand that. We have heard today that no two people are affected in the same way, so it is important that we have a person-centred approach to providing support, whether that is encouraging employers to be more aware of fibromyalgia and of the reasonable adjustments they need to make to enable people to stay in work, or looking at how the benefit system supports people.

The benefit system uses a person-centred approach, and I can absolutely reassure Members that the healthcare professionals who undertake the work capability assessments for the employment and support allowance, which is the income replacement benefit for people who cannot work, and the assessment providers for the personal independence payment, or PIP, which is a non-means-tested benefit for people both in work and out of work, have had training in fibromyalgia. A lot of that has been done in the past year, in association with voluntary sector organisations that have provided support. Members will know, because we are often in debates about improving PIP, that I am absolutely determined to ensure that we make the improvements to which we have already committed, so that everyone has access to the support they deserve.