Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people living with arthritis.
There are roughly ten million people in the UK living with arthritis, and I happen to be one of them. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year and due to my medication was shielding until August 1st.
The coronavirus emergency has demonstrated beyond all doubt just how important our health service is and I pay tribute to frontline workers who are responding to this unprecedented challenge. I recognise the impact the virus has had on the NHS’s ability to deliver routine care. Protecting the NHS throughout the pandemic has sadly come at a cost, with cancelled operations and treatment delayed.
Before the pandemic, waiting lists for treatment stood at a record 4.5 million. Last year, more than 24,000 patients waited more than 18 weeks for hip replacement surgery, while more than 31,000 people waited longer than 18 weeks for knee replacement surgery.
Many vulnerable people living with arthritis who are waiting longer for treatment are often in pain and suffer from distress and anxiety. This runs the serious risk that their health will deteriorate further, with poorer outcomes for patients who are waiting longer than six months, when treatment is less effective.
Resetting the NHS to continue treating COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients is an important priority to address the growing burden of unmet clinical need. The Government has said the resumption of NHS services will include resources to support clinicians in having better shared decision-making conversations with orthopaedic patients whose surgery was postponed during the pandemic.
I will press the Government to urgently bring forward a resourced plan to ensure that our health service can provide the care and treatment that people living with arthritis deserve. Beyond the pandemic, I believe Ministers must guarantee the standards of healthcare patients are entitled to under the NHS Constitution. This must include a commitment that people living with arthritis can access life-changing surgery when it will make the most difference.
Throughout the crisis I have also sought to raise issues affecting shielders and I will continue to do so for as long as is necessary. We need reassurances that workplaces are safe and, where this cannot be guaranteed, that shielders will receive financial support if they are not able to work from home. You can read more about the questions I have been asking in the In Parliament section of my website.