As you may know, I am the Minister responsible for long term conditions including rheumatoid arthritis. It is my ambition to help people live healthy lives, so that they are at less risk of getting a long term condition in the first place. I also want to ensure that - if and when people need to - they are able to secure prompt access to diagnosis and treatment, and are appropriately supported in learning to live with and to self-manage their condition.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on every condition, though I do understand the devastating impact which rheumatoid arthritis can have on people if it is not identified promptly or managed effectively. Nor do I have any desire to micromanage the professionals at the front line – the doctors, the nurses, the physiotherapists or the self-help groups who directly provide the services to support patients. My job is to help create an environment in which excellent local services can flourish and to ensure that there are no barriers to prevent the provision of high quality care. I am therefore very keen to hear about your experience of living with rheumatoid arthritis and about your access to the services you need.
The webchat will focus on access to physiotherapy, and I am looking forward to seeing the report about this. I fully recognise the key role which physiotherapists play in supporting people with rheumatoid arthritis. There have been a number of specific initiatives in this area, such as:
•Local pilots on self-referral to physiotherapy
•A “service improvement project” showing how service redesign can improve access and outcomes
•Work to enable physiotherapy services and others to collect information about waiting times in order to make improvements
More generally, our programme of NHS reform will ensure that front-line health professionals – Clinical Commissioning Groups – take the lead in designing services that really address local needs and that make the best possible use of the available money.
But it’s not just about the services which the NHS provides. In the end, it is you who have to live with rheumatoid arthritis and you are the experts in how to do so. That is why I believe passionately in the importance of self-care – in enabling individuals to take responsibility for their own health and well-being, and encouraging health professionals to see people not as passive “patients” but as equal partners. Research tells us that when people are in control, it enables them to live longer, to suffer less pain and anxiety, and to be more active and independent. There is a wealth of material available to help you, much of it accessible through the NHS Choices website at www.nhs.uk/selfcare . And there is a national “Self Care Week”, which runs this year from 14-20 November 2011; I encourage you to take an active part and make the most of the vast array of expertise out there.
How to take part in the webchat
If you have a question about access to physiotherapy, or about services for rheumatoid arthritis more generally, please comment here http://webchat.dh.gov.uk/. Alternatively you can tweet us your question, mentioning @dhgovuk and using the hashtag: #raphysio.
You will also be able to ask questions and leave comments live during my webchat on October 12, so don't forget to tune in on the day using the address above.