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Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people in (a) England, (b) South Sefton, (c) Southport and (d) Formby have arthritis; if he will make a statement on Early Day Motion No.220; and if the Government will make arthritis a health care priority. [122234]

According to Arthritis Care, arthritis and rheumatism together account for one quarter of all visits to general practitioners. More than eight million people in the United Kingdom consult their family doctor about some form of arthritis. This includes about one million adults under the age of 45 and about 15,000 children. Figures are not available for South Sefton, Southport and Formby.Our policies to improve general hospital care, especially through the new single assessment process, will ensure that the health care needs of older people—who are the main sufferers from arthritis—will be properly targeted. This will ensure that the services that are provided are most appropriate to older people's needs, including people with arthritis.In the past year, two new classes of drugs, Cox II inhibitors and anti-TNF therapy have been made available to arthritis patients, following reviews by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). In addition, NICE is reviewing the drug, Anakinra, for its clinical and cost-effectiveness in treating rheumatoid arthritis.We have issued directions obliging strategic health authorities and primary care trusts to provide appropriate funding for treatments recommended by NICE. This is in line with our manifesto commitment to ensure that patients receive drugs and treatments recommended by NICE on the national health service if considered appropriate by their clinicians.Priorities for health and social care are set out in "Improvement, Expansion and Reform", the Priorities and Planning Framework for 2003–6. Although arthritis is not identified specifically, people with this condition stand to benefit from the improvement in access to specialist care for patients suffering from any form of orthopaedic condition. Maximum waiting times have fallen over the past few years and will continue to do so, so that, by the end of 2005, the maximum waiting time for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant will fall to three months and the maximum wait for inpatient treatment will fall to six months. Also, the older people's national service framework set standards which will improve treatment and care for a range of older people, including those with arthritis.