What discussions has the Minister had with the UK Government to ensure that the welfare system does not discriminate against people who suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis in Wales?
The Welsh Government is committed to supporting people living with musculoskeletal conditions in paid employment who wish to remain working. We are aware the financial impact can be substantial for anyone having to give up work and are promoting timely access to appropriate care and support to help people remain independent and in employment. Our approach, as set out in ”A Healthier Wales”, is that people have access to the right care, at the right time and from the right source.
We are also aware of the number of people living with musculoskeletal conditions who rely on the welfare system. In the UK, 42.4% of people received or were entitled to Attendance Allowance as a result of a musculoskeletal condition. One third of those receiving Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in the UK cited musculoskeletal conditions as their primary disability.
You will be aware that welfare and the benefit system is not a devolved area and therefore not within the scope of the Welsh Government. However in Wales, we have been able to take advantage of EU funding to set up a unique service that provides rapid therapeutic support to help people with either physical or mental health conditions from falling out of employment. The In-Work Support Service provides support tailored to an individual’s workplace environment and has, since its launch in 2016, helped nearly 5,000 to remain in work.
You may also wish to be aware that the UK Government’s Fit for Work service offers free occupational health advice to support people with health conditions and to help with sickness absence.
In addition, the Welsh Government is promoting a multi-disciplinary approach to managing rheumatoid arthritis and associated musculoskeletal conditions through the work being undertaken by its arthritis and long term musculoskeletal steering group.
The steering group consisting of NHS, third sector and patient representatives is developing guidance for health care professionals that focuses on managing the disease through an interdisciplinary team approach that includes specialist nursing, physiotherapy, orthotics, psychology, and occupational therapy as well as the ability to directly refer patients to various specialties given the multisystem nature of rheumatoid arthritis and associated conditions. The guidance will be issued for consultation later this year.
Health Boards are also being encouraged to support individuals to develop self-management plans to take control of their lives and manage their conditions for themselves. Further support is being provided through community based social prescribing programmes and models of integrated care, including help for their mental health and wellbeing.