Firstly, I am very pleased to see £168 million being invested in Luton & Dunstable Hospital locally to provide improved facilities for patients and staff and this will help the hospital deal with backlogs.
I can also assure you that reducing waiting times for operations required by people with arthritis - including hip and knee replacement surgery - is an urgent priority for the Government. To date, £5.4 billion of funding has been committed to reduce the backlog of operations, including hip and knee replacements. In addition to this, the number of surgical hubs will be increased to deliver more hip and knee replacements in a COVID-secure environment.
NHS England has published a plan for the recovery of elective care in England and launched the My Planned Care platform to ensure that people waiting for treatment have access to information and support in the meantime. It is important that local NHS bodies clearly communicate with people with arthritis on waiting lists for surgery about when they can expect to be treated, and signpost to information and support available from charities like Versus Arthritis.
The Government recognises that tackling major conditions that cause ill-health - such as arthritis - provides an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people. That is why a Major Conditions Strategy will be developed and published over the next year to outline how outcomes in six major condition areas will be improved, including arthritis.
A call for evidence has recently been launched to gather views on priority areas for arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, and you can respond by completing this survey: https://consultations.dhsc.gov.uk/645cb4b614fbee6d990990c9
Please be assured that I will try my best to attend the Summer Drop-In hosted by Versus Arthritis on Monday 3 July, Parliamentary business permitting.
Greater awareness of this condition, better access to information and support and improving the treatments available for those affected are all crucial to making life better for people of all ages affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week – which took place in September 2022 - provided an important opportunity to dispel the myths surrounding this incurable, often invisible condition.
I applaud the work of patient groups like the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) and Versus Arthritis to provide information, support and services for families, children and young people affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2020 sets out best practice in the diagnosis, treatment, care, and support of people with rheumatoid arthritis. This includes recommendations that patients should be offered psychological interventions.
I would urge anyone living with rheumatoid arthritis who needs support with their mental wellbeing to speak to their GP in the first instance. The guidance can be accessed on the NICE website here: https://cks.nice.org.uk/rheumatoid-arthritis
Between 2014/15 and 2018/19, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded 42 research programmes and individual awards, including doctoral research fellowships and clinical lectureships, on rheumatoid arthritis, with a total value of £18.5m.
Regarding prescription charges, the Government has no plans to review or extend the prescription charge medical exemptions list to include rheumatoid arthritis. However, for those who do not qualify for an exemption, the cost of prescriptions can be spread by purchasing a prescription pre-payment certificate.
Finally, I will try my best to attend the Summer Drop-In hosted by Versus Arthritis on Monday 3 July, Parliamentary business permitting.