I know arthritis can be a very painful and debilitating condition. I recognise that living with a long-term condition, such as arthritis, has a significant impact upon a person’s wellbeing and I would like to thank the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and Versus Arthritis for raising awareness of this issue.
I know that there is no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow it down, including lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery. I welcome that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is presently working on updated guidance for treatment of Osteoarthritis, which is due for publication following extensive consultation in 2022. I will continue to monitor this issue.
As I am sure you are aware, the NHS is being provided with an additional £33.9 billion by 2023/24; this is the largest, longest funding settlement in the history of the NHS. This landmark investment to help secure the long term future of our NHS is extremely welcome, and I hope you agree it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to properly funding our NHS and public services: health is the Government's top priority.
Alongside this, the NHS was asked to undertake a clinical review of standards relating to waiting times. This must be clinically led to enable best, and safest, delivery of care for patients. I understand that NHS England has now prepared proposals, covering waiting times across the service, including elective procedures, mental health, cancer, and A&E.
I understand that the recommendations following this review have been deferred as part of the NHS response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is understandable.
I know that, while it has been important to postpone some NHS activities to protect individuals and enable resources to be used as efficiently as possible, my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as NHS Staff, are determined to restart elective procedures as soon as it is safe to do so. I was delighted when the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced on 27th April that, from the following day, NHS services began restarting, including the most urgent, like cancer care and mental health support. The exact pace of this restoration is determined by local circumstances, according to local need and demand, and according to the number of coronavirus cases being dealt with by the hospital.
I completely agree that aids and adaptations can greatly enhance the quality of life for people with arthritis. An independent review of the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), which supports disabled people on low-incomes, was undertaken in 2018. You may be pleased to know this review considered how the DFG may need to adapt to changing innovation and technology in the aids and adaptions market. The Department of Health and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is analysing these recommendations, and I look forward to studying their conclusions.
Funding for the DFG increased from £220 million in 2015 to 2016 to £431 million in 2017 to 2018, and now stands at £505 million for 2020 to 2021. However, I recognise there is more to do. Clinical guidelines for arthritis currently highlight the importance of self-management, and to help patients manage their condition, and live as independently as possible.
I also know that the Department for Work and Pensions ensures that people with arthritis applying for Personal Independence Payments are able to specify whether they need specific aids to help them with daily, physical tasks – making sure that they get the right support to improve their quality of life while maintaining their independence.
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. In addition, in March 2019 the UK Musculoskeletal Translational Research Collaboration launched, a partnership between NIHR and the charity Versus Arthritis. This brings together a range of specialists and research facilities to drive cutting edge research and improve outcomes for patients: rheumatoid arthritis is at the forefront of this work.