It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Alec Shelbrooke not only on securing the debate, but on the eloquent way that he presented his arguments, which were excellent and enabled us all to unite around them.
I will speak briefly on behalf of a constituent who wants to be identified, Katie Adwas, who came to see me only last week. She is a teacher, and actually she has a supportive employer. She explained to me what it is like to live with constant pain every second of every minute of every hour of every day, and how exhausting it is to do her job and get through the day. Unless we experience that, it is very difficult to relate to and understand. It makes everything she does in her life so much more difficult.
Although she recognises the need to focus on the world of work, she feels very strongly about the need for a focus on earlier diagnosis, better treatment and funding for research, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. It took 10 years—an entire decade—for my constituent to be diagnosed with endometriosis, by which time she was already at stage 4. She initially went to see her GP regarding a problem connected with her periods. As a consequence of that, at the age of 16, she was not only prescribed antidepressants but told that, as a woman, she would have to live with that kind of thing. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to that. At primary healthcare level, GP training is crucial; if that does not happen, we are destined to continue to have many problems.
Katie has also had a number of operations specifically to try to save her fertility. She wants to start a family, but she made the point that, unfortunately, surgery is not always successful. It can lead to the removal of appendix and ovaries, which, along with the condition more generally, can have a horrendous impact on someone’s mental health. We need to be concerned not just about the physical consequences of this condition, but about the long-term and ongoing mental health problems that, for understandable reasons, many women experience.
Katie very much wanted me to be her voice today. Other women in my constituency have been in touch too. I think we heard that one in five or one in 10 women across the country suffer from this condition. That is an extraordinary statistic. As policy makers and legislators, we must recognise that we have failed to act to date, and that we now have an opportunity and a responsibility to take decisive action. It is incredibly important that there is a joined-up approach across Departments. As the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell said, it is clear that there are a number of Departments with responsibility that can make a difference on these issues.
It is also incredibly important that the Department of Health and Social Care does not say, as it often does, “We are not willing to focus on specific conditions; we are willing to have generic approaches to groups of conditions, but we are not willing to train people on, raise awareness of or recognise particular conditions that need a much greater level of central intervention.” It is obvious from the neglect that this condition has experienced for a long time that it needs central intervention. Centrally-driven changes in policy are essential. Of course, delivery has to come on the ground—that is about awareness raising, training, early intervention and education—but we also need a specific focus on this condition.