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AM welcomes rare disease victory

disease victoryREBECCA EVANS AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, has welcomed the launch of the UK’s first strategy to help build understanding of rare diseases and boost research to find and deliver more effective treatment, support and therapies – and hailed the promise of a Wales delivery plan as a victory for rare disease campaigners in Wales.

In 2009, a Council of the European Union recommendation on action in the field of rare diseases was adopted unanimously by all Member States of the European Union, including the UK – representing a major milestone in the field of rare diseases.

The move finally recognised that rare diseases are a health priority, and acknowledged that cooperation and coordination across Member States in rare diseases was not only logical and meaningful in terms of using available resources in the best way, but would also have an enormous impact on quality of life and survival for millions of people all over Europe.

Key to the EU recommendation was that each Member State should have a plan or strategy in place by the end of 2013 to facilitate research and to improve access to care, treatment and support for patients affected by rare diseases.

Mrs Evans, who has long championed rare diseases in the National Assembly for Wales, said:

“This is excellent news for people affected by rare diseases.

“Rare diseases are not rare. There are over 6,000 known rare diseases, and a rare disease is defined as any condition affecting fewer than 5 in 10,000 of the general population.

“Rare diseases will affect 1 in 17 people at some point in their lives that’s 175,000 people in Wales.

“People affected by rare diseases can face common problems including access to a timely diagnosis, misdiagnosis, lack of access to information, poor coordination of care, problematic transition from children’s to adult services, poor access to treatment, lack of research, and inequality of provision.”

Key elements of the UK strategy include:

• A clear personal care plan for every patient that brings together health and care services, with more support for them and their families

• Support for specialised clinical centres to offer the best care and support

• Better education and training for health and social care professionals to help ensure earlier diagnosis and access to treatment

• Promoting the UK as a world leader in research and development to improve the understanding and treatment of rare diseases

Mrs Evans is a member of the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee and Co-Chair of the Cross Party Group on Disability. She has previously tabled and led a debate on rare diseases at the Senedd.

During the debate, Mrs Evans highlighted the different directions being taken by the Welsh and English health services and argued that it was essential that the rare disease plan delivers for people living with rare conditions and their families in Wales.

She used the debate to call on the Welsh Government to commit to ensuring the development and implementation of a Wales-specific plan for rare diseases in Wales to provide the framework for delivery of a UK strategy.

During the debate, Mrs Evans said that a “commitment to a delivery plan would represent the single most significant step since devolution towards improving support and outcomes for people with rare diseases in Wales. If the Minister takes away only one thing from this debate, I hope it would be that.”

Today, Mrs Evans said: “I am delighted that the Welsh Government has listened to my call. The Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, has just announced that the Welsh Government is working with the NHS and the voluntary sector to develop a specific Wales implementation plan. I look forward to it being delivered early next year.”

Alastair Kent OBE, Chair of Rare Disease UK, which was part of the stakeholder forum that helped shaped the strategy, said:

“Patients and families affected by life limiting rare diseases have often struggled to get a diagnosis and to access services that meet their needs. While the NHS has demonstrated that it is capable of delivering a world class service, the experience of patients has been that this is by no means a universal experience.

“With the development of the UK Strategy for Rare Diseases patients and families can have a clear expectation of what to expect from the NHS, wherever they live in the UK. For the first time the four nations of the UK have come together to recognise and respond to the needs of rare disease patients systematically, structurally and in accordance with the founding principle of the NHS that treatment should be a response to need.

“Turning the UK Strategy’s aims into practical benefits for patients will require hard work and detailed planning. Now, at least, patients can have a clear expectation of what the NHS aspires to provide for them, wherever they live in the UK. This is a huge step forward, and the publication of the Strategy will give hope and comfort to the 3.5 million people affected by rare diseases across the UK.