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MPs’ debate raises awareness of fibromyalgia

12:00am | & Health

AS well as all the ‘Brexit’ shenanigans in Parliament this week there has been other important business going on away from the spotlight.

On Tuesday, MPs of all parties contributed to an important debate on ‘fibromyalgia’, helping raise awareness of a debilitating condition which affects around 2.8 million people in the UK. They shared stories from their own lives and those of their constituents about its impact.

Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition which can cause widespread pain and tenderness over much of the body. People with fibromyalgia can also often experience tiredness and difficulties with memory and concentration, often known as ‘fibro-fog’. The precise cause of the condition remains unknown, but research suggests it is a combination of physical, neurological and psychological factors.

Tuesday’s debate focussed on the real-life impacts of fibromyalgia, the support available and how the healthcare and benefits systems could be improved for people living with condition. It followed an online petition started by a person with the condition, Adrienne Lakin. It attracted more than 115,000 signatures and called for fibromyalgia to be officially recognised as a disability under the Equalities Act 2010.

Even though Tuesday also saw the crucial vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, more than 20 MPs made time to speak in the debate on fibromyalgia. It was led by Labour MP for Chesterfield, Toby Perkins, who also acts as an ‘Arthritis Champion’ in Westminster for leading national charity ‘Versus Arthritis’ (the new name for the merged charities Arthritis Research UK and Arthritis Care).

Versus Arthritis supported the debate by providing information about fibromyalgia and the research it is funding into the condition, plus personal stories from its own supporters who live with the condition. For example, Debs from Nottingham explained how her daily symptoms included “generalised pain that can be anything from an ache to a shooting pain in my arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, toes, back and shoulders” and that “sometimes it feels like I’m hitting a brick wall. I can be clumsy, regularly dropping things and tripping over my own feet. I get irritated easily and am quick to get frustrated and angry.”

Opening the debate, Mr Perkins said: “Many in this country are ignorant about what fibromyalgia is, but it is a condition that many people suffer from. It is one of a group of conditions often referred to as invisible illnesses, but sufferers live with its consequences every day of their lives.”

During the debate, Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns spoke about how the condition affects her, saying: “I cannot remember a day without pain in more than 15 years” and “the widespread pain is one of the worst things. I am talking about waking up in the morning and being bent over with pain.”

Two further MPs – Labour’s Justin Madders and Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards – explained that both of their wives had fibromyalgia and called for more action from the Government to improve support services. Labour’s Shadow Disability Minister Marsha De Cordova thanked Versus Arthritis and Fibromyalgia Action UK for their work in highlighting the condition. She also echoed calls for reform of the PIP (Personal Independence Payment) assessment process for people with fibromyalgia and for improvements in diagnosis and research.

Responding to the debate, the Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton, committed to convening a roundtable discussion with Government Ministers, people with fibromyalgia, campaigning organisations and research groups to talk about the next steps. She also drew attention to Versus Arthritis’ work with the Royal College of General Practitioner’s to develop an e-learning course on musculoskeletal care, including fibromyalgia.

• Versus Arthritis campaigns on behalf of the 17.8 million people in the UK living with arthritis and related conditions, including fibromyalgia. To find out more, visit its website by clicking here, and for more information specifically on fibromyalgia, click here.

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