Wales

Arthritis sufferers 'waiting longer' in Wales, figures show

Yvonne Spencer's arm support
Image caption Families feel support in Wales is "patchy"

More needs to be done to help people in Wales living with rheumatoid arthritis, an expert has said.

New figures suggest an increase in the number of people sent to see a specialist because of pain.

Nearly half a million people live with the illness in Wales, but some sufferers claim other conditions are given priority.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said health boards were responsible for meeting the needs of their population.

In May 2016, more than 3,000 people were referred to a specialist by their GP - compared to 1,810 referred in May 2012.

'Care varies'

But on average, 28% of patients in Wales will get to see a specialist within three weeks, compared with 38% in the rest of the UK, figures showed.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints - usually affecting the hands, feet and wrists.

Rhian Goodfellow, Wales Devolved Nations Chair at the British Society of Rheumatology, called on the Welsh Government to invest more.

"Care varies in different parts of Wales," she said.

"We carried out a national audit and found some good examples of care. But usually there is always room for improvement, things can always be better."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We are taking a number of actions to raise awareness and support people to reduce their risk of these conditions and, where they do occur, to assess, diagnose and provide ongoing care as locally and as quickly as possible."

It is working with the UK Government on a national rheumatoid and early inflammatory arthritis audit, they added.

Image caption Yvonne Spencer struggles to perform basic tasks due to pain

Yvonne Spencer, 54, from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis five years ago.

She said simple things like making a cup of tea were just too painful.

"I can't do things like opening tins, I can't use the kettle, or cook food in a pan, in case I spill it everywhere," she said.

"I'm tired, it's painful, I do fewer hours at work, and can't do much around the house.

"I fell down the stairs. I broke ribs. It hurts everywhere."

She lives with her husband Alan and they have put their house up for sale with the aim of buying a bungalow.

'Unbearable'

Mr Spencer said: "I do the laundry these days, because Yvonne just isn't able to pull a heavy load of wet washing out of the machine.

"We have to adapt to life's changes, with her finding things much harder now, I have to be here to help her, every way I can," he said.

The family said support was "patchy" for people with rheumatoid arthritis, a condition for which there is no cure, so Mrs Spencer has set up a support group for people in west Wales.

"There wasn't enough information, just a few booklets.

"I had to do the research myself, so I decided to establish a support group here. I want people to become more aware of the condition.

"Some days I look alright, but behind my smile, the pain's sometimes unbearable."

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