To ask the Secretary of State for Health
(1) what proportion of hospital trusts provide access to a multidisciplinary team for patients with rheumatological conditions;
(2) what steps are being taken to increase patient access to direct advice, information and support to assist them in coping with their conditions.
Information is not collected centrally on the proportion of hospital trusts with access to a multidisciplinary team for patients with rheumatological conditions.
The Department is driving forward a major programme of work to improve equality of access to all national health service treatment and care services. Priorities for health and social care are set out in "Improvement, Expansion and Reform", the priorities and planning framework for 2003–06. Although rheumatological conditions are not identified specifically, people with these conditions stand to benefit from the improvement in access to specialist care for patients with any form of orthopaedic condition.
Maximum waiting times have fallen over the past few years and will continue to do so. By the end of 2005, the maximum waiting time for a first out-patient appointment with a consultant will fall to three months and the maximum wait for inpatient treatment will fall to six months. Also, the older peoples' national service framework set standards that will improve treatment and care for a range of older people, including those with rheumatological conditions.