It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Alec Shelbrooke on securing the debate and on the excellent way in which he introduced it. As many Members know, I have spoken in the past about the challenges that my wife faces as a fibromyalgia sufferer, and I can see many parallels between the two conditions, given the debilitating physical symptoms and their unpredictability, as well as the lack of understanding from the public and employers about the conditions and the delays in getting a diagnosis.
I want to speak briefly about the experience of a person I spoke to who suffers from endometriosis. She told me that before she was diagnosed she had regular periods of extreme pain, which she described as more severe than giving birth. She said the contraction-like pains would last for several days a month, which made it difficult for her to look after her children and go to work, yet she did not feel that she could take time off for what her GP described as bad period pains. She went back and forth to her GP for three years and was given increasing amounts of pain medication. Outrageously, she was told that, as a woman in her 40s, she was not expected to have to put up with it for much longer. I simply cannot believe that was the advice. She was eventually diagnosed and had treatment, and she is now on the mend.
Endometriosis UK has called for those with the condition to have access to statutory sick pay. As it stands, the current definition of SSP penalises people with chronic long-term conditions such as endometriosis, whose symptoms can be experienced over many years. What about people who work in the gig economy? How realistic is it for people in agency work or on zero-hours contracts to take time off when they are suffering, knowing that they may not get a call back when the next shift becomes available? We need to think about wider protections.
We also need to make it easier for employers to feel comfortable in talking about endometriosis with their staff, who will hopefully feel more supported if they can have an open dialogue. An endometriosis-friendly employer scheme would be helpful in that respect and would effectively mean people could manage their conditions better in the workplace. Some of the examples given by the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell about how people have been treated in the workplace show that there is an awfully long way to go.
This is a good opportunity for the Government, and for Parliament, to lead by example and become endometriosis-friendly employers. I would be happy if we could support that scheme. We must step up the fight here to ensure that all women who suffer from that terrible condition have the support they need in the workplace. That means strengthening workplace protection so that women do not feel that they need to fight their employer as well as the condition itself.