Thursday, 13 August 2009

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

This morning I had a number of texts from friends, highlighting a comment made by the UK Health Secretary - Andy Burnham.

In a statement he said that people on incapacity benefit should take more exercise, which could help them back to work. He also added that "in England, if we can get just 1% of people on incapacity benefit back into the workplace through active lifestyles, this would save the Exchequer £36 million and industry £31 million - that's a combined cost to the economy of £67 million a year."

Many of the comments I received from friends were along the lines of "if only it were that easy!" and while I can appreciate that the comments made by Andy Burnham came as part of a wider announcement to encourage Britons to take up activities, I agree that it can be worrying that another hurdle will be introduced to the claim process. I hope that it will not become a generalisation for all people on incapacity benefit and before it does, I ask that Andy Burnham walk a mile in my shoes....

There are varying reasons why people are on incapacity, and recently there has been more headlines highlighting benefit fraud. For those who are genuine claimants, this can be frustrating, and stressful because it means yet another overhaul of the benefit system, and you have to go through hurdle after hurdle to get something that you wish you didn't have to.

Living with a long term medical condition can make you feel so helpless, so frustrated and when you have a good day, you so want to make the most of it. I have always wanted to work... I even started when I was 13 with a paper-round... but there are times when my condition is bad, or I need major surgery. This is when I need time off from work, and statutory sick pay only covers you for a limited time.

Claiming incapacity benefit is not something you welcome with open arms.. given the choice, you would rather be working but your health dictates otherwise.

If it took a bit more exercise for me to return to work then I would be straight down that gym! However its not as simple as that... and there are a number of points our health secretary needs to consider.

Pain management is something of a hit and miss.. many PCT's offer pain management clinics but with some long term conditions, there are other factors that can have consequences. Stress can be a key factor in pain and this needs to be reduced as much as possible.

Employers need to be more aware of long term conditions, and the affect it can have. When your condition has deteriorated or you are approaching major surgery and trying to mentally prepare yourself, the last thing you need is an employer adding to that stress. There needs to be more support and less lip service.

Stress from employers is something I have experienced this recently, and ended up resigning in the end. While I wish I had taken my employer to a tribunal, my priority was being mentally prepared for major surgery.. The time limit for a tribunal claim is 3 months.. the recovery time for my surgery was 6 months..

Self management is key, and you will find that a majority of people with long term conditions want to self manage. The thing is knowing what is available in order for them to do so...

Services... and making them more accessible. Not everyone can afford a gym membership... While some gyms and leisure centres give concessions to those in receipt of benefits, incapacity benefit is not income related and so does not entitle you to a concession.

Not everyone is able to use a gym or leisure centre... while public services now fall under the DDA and have to be accessible, this doesn't mean that someone in a wheelchair or with limited mobility can suddenly start using them.. not all leisure centres have hoists, or graduated steps going into the pool.

Also with conditions such as Arthritis or Raynard's syndrome, varying temperatures can have a profound effect. Someone with Arthritis may find the cooler water makes their joints stiff and painful, whereas someone with Raynard's syndrome may find the cooler water will affect their circulation and they could well end up in A&E.

Hydrotherapy pools are available at most hospitals but you need to be referred through your doctor, and even then can only have hydro sessions for 6-8 weeks. Some local groups have managed to work with the hospital and have weekly sessions for a minimal fee but this is not always made public. Some hydrotherapy pools are being closed down because the cost of keeping them maintained is not considered a priority by the local PCT. There needs to be better management of these facilities and I believe opening them up to those with long term conditions for a minimal fee will aide in the management.

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