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Fibromyalgia: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 5

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Harty: Information on Michael Harty Zoom on Michael Harty] Unfortunately, many people who suffer from fibromyalgia end up on these medications - inappropriately in many cases. They then have two problems. They suffer from fibromyalgia and they are on medication which has substantial side-effects and may not have substantial benefits for them. Deputies Gino Kenny and Paul Murphy referred to medicinal cannabis products being made available to people who have chronic pain syndrome. Unfortunately, however, there is no class 1 evidence-based recommendation for the provision of cannabis-based products in the treatment of chronic pain syndromes. The scientific evidence to back it up is not there, unfortunately.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny Yes it is.

Deputy Michael Harty: Information on Michael Harty Zoom on Michael Harty Deputy Kenny and I have many conversations about this. He is absolutely correct that the Minister is dragging his heels when it comes to providing an access programme for the three conditions. The Health Products Regulatory Authority has not found evidence that cannabis-based products are a treatment for pain. This is a debatable issue, however.

The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, cited Sláintecare as a possible solution to the treatment of patients with fibromyalgia. Our health service is struggling to deliver acute urgent care. We discussed this here this morning when debating the problems in Limerick, where 81 people were on trolleys yesterday and 76 are on trolleys today. Those are unbelievable numbers and the problem is replicated across the country. While Sláintecare seeks to reform the health service, if the Minister of State is to cite Sláintecare as a cure or means of providing services to treat fibromyalgia, I can tell her for nothing that it will not do so today, tomorrow or the next day.

Another issue regarding fibromyalgia is that 50% of people who suffer from the condition are not working. They are lost to the workforce. This is not only a great personal loss to the individual concerned, but also a great loss to the State in that there is a cohort of people who, because the services to treat their condition are not there, are a loss to the workforce. I accept that the Government needs to address this issue through Sláintecare, but it also needs to front-load this in supplying the necessary personnel within primary care to deliver a service which is not a medication service. It should be a physical service, a psychological service and a support service. It should provide physiotherapy, occupational therapy and, in particular, cognitive behavioural therapy to people who have this condition in order to help them to cope with it. The failure of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to recognise it as a condition is also unbelievable. Many GPs are left signing people off work for musculoskeletal conditions, but one cannot put down the word "fibromyalgia". That is unacceptable in this day and age. No one wants to be labelled with a term which the State fails to recognise, and fibromyalgia is one such condition.

Fibromyalgia is a condition that is not receiving particular attention, and I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for introducing this debate. The Minister of State needs to recognise the condition. This encompasses the holistic approach we should have for care in our community. It should be community-based and built into Sláintecare. However, Sláintecare has so many problems before getting to fibromyalgia that the Government must specifically target resources towards it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We now move back to Fianna Fáil. I call Deputy McGuinness.

Deputy John McGuinness: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness I am sharing my time with Deputy Michael Moynihan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy John McGuinness: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness The easiest way for me to capture what people think about this is to read from a letter I received from a constituent in January. The content of the letter represents what most people would write in their correspondence, and I have received numerous letters about the campaign to have fibromyalgia recognised. This lady writes to me about her son, who is 46 years of age. He has had the condition for nine years. He was a schoolteacher but his condition got so bad that he was forced in 2017 to take a career break, which was not paid. His pain and his condition worsened. He continued his course of medication and continued to do all the things that the various websites and Facebook pages suggested to alleviate the pain. He was on illness benefit of €197 trying to pay a mortgage and keep a roof over his head. On his doctor's advice, he applied for a medical card in 2008. It took six months for the card to come through. As the condition is not recognised, there is no way he can be dealt with in the context of defining the disease and then giving the prescriptions, looking after the management of the pain and so on. It is hugely difficult, and this is someone who is trying to work. This lady finishes her letter by saying he is not a lazy person and never has been and that she cannot comprehend why this Government is doing absolutely nothing about this.

That was in January 2019. Since my election to this House, and particularly in the past ten years, huge efforts have been made by the various organisations that represent those who suffer from fibromyalgia. In the Minister of State's own words, all she is doing here, with respect, is explaining that she is listening to Members and that she understands the symptoms. She went on to talk about primary care services, disability services and so on. In reality, however, these people suffer in silence. Their quality of life suffers greatly. As other speakers have said, because of the medication, the pain and the fact that they cannot fully participate in their work or lives, they also end up on antidepressants. The time has come for the Government to recognise this disease and the fact that the World Health Organization recognised it in 1992. Once recognised, a pathway to care must be put in place that is easily accessible and supported by a medical card and an understanding at primary care level in order that the services can be provided without hassle and with the full support of the patient.

On Sunday, 7 April, from 10 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel in Carlow, there will be a presentation and a full day to try to assist those with fibromyalgia to understand what they are going through and to give them the necessary supports. While all this is going on in the public domain, supported by people who understand the disease and are campaigning to have it recognised, the Government is doing nothing. Debates such as this are extremely useful because they help to highlight the issue, and I thank Deputy Gino Kenny and other Deputies for ensuring that this debate was held in this Chamber. However, the measure of this, from the public's point of view, will be the action the Government takes, having listened to all of what was said here today. What every single speaker said could be repeated over and over again because it reflects the experience of the individual who is suffering continuously the pain we are all talking about.

There is a need to inform GPs and set out a pathway to care and to support financially the care that will be required. There is also a need for the Government to finally take action on the 1992 decision of the World Health Organization, take its head out of the sand, listen to patients and take the appropriate action arising from this debate.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan I welcome the opportunity to speak on these statements. As practising politicians, all of us encounter daily, and have done over the years, many people who suffer from fibromyalgia.

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