Local UUP MLA Robin Swann has warned that arthritis could become “the silent health epidemic of the decade”.
He says “specific funding needs to be given to the development of new drug treatments for arthritis as well as the provision of rehabilitation support services for sufferers”.
And he claimed that if the health department did not follow this course of action, “the illness could become the silent health epidemic of the decade”.
Mr Swann said that after recent private conversations which he had had with arthritis support organisations and charities, he has been left in no doubt that arthritis in all its forms “is a major disease which affects a very significant proportion of people to some degree or other”.
“In its most serious form, it is a major cause of absence from work and loss of employment. It can destroy the quality of life for many individuals and their families,” he said.
The MLA added: “I directly appeal to the Stormont health committee, the DUP health minister and indeed the entire Stormont Executive on behalf of not just those arthritis sufferers in our North Antrim constituency, but right across Northern Ireland, to ensure there are services to support and empower people with arthritis and work with them to minimise their disability.
“It is imperative that Northern Ireland has a viable and effective strategy which will address the problem and set Province-wide standards for treatment and rehabilitation. Practically, the time has now come for the development of a National Strategy for Arthritis.
“Such a Northern Ireland National Strategy for Arthritis could also ensure that there would be adequate rheumatology provision and hopefully would eliminate the need for so-called postcode treatment.
“Perhaps the time has also come for people within the community to sign an Arthritis Pledge in much the same way that I and many others signed the Diabetes Pledge to campaign to raise the public’s awareness of this equally terrible illness. Given the seriousness of this arthritis crisis, I call on the DUP Health Minister to specifically target funding for arthritis research and care,” said Mr Swann.