Election success for Northern Ireland Versus Arthritis

18 May 2022

In the run up to the Northern Ireland Assembly election, we asked our supporters to write to their candidates with one simple message.

We need MLAs to champion arthritis in the next Assembly, to help us secure government action and investment to improve access to healthcare and support for people with arthritis in Northern Ireland.

Despite arthritis and related conditions being the biggest cause of physical disability, the 500,000 people with arthritis in Northern Ireland feel unseen, unheard and unequal. From long waits for diagnosis, treatment and surgery, to a lack of support to maintain independence or remain in work. This needs to change.

Thank you

During the election period, you sent over a thousand emails to candidates across Northern Ireland – our message, that people with arthritis in Northern Ireland should be seen and heard in government.

Thanks to the hard work of our friends and supporters, candidates across every constituency and representing 10 political parties (plus many independents) signed the Versus Arthritis pledge:

“If elected, I pledge to support people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions in the next Assembly, championing improvements to the lives of people living with these conditions in my constituency.”

Of these candidates, 31 were successfully elected to the Assembly. This means that a third of elected MLAs are now aware of the issues facing people with arthritis in Northern Ireland and have pledged to champion improvements in their constituencies.

This could not have been achieved without the commitment and dedication of our supporters. Thanks to you, we have taken steps to ensure that people with arthritis in Northern Ireland are seen, heard and equal.

Our commitment to you

We will be:

  • meeting many of the candidates who signed our pledge and encouraging them to meet with constituents so that they can hear directly how arthritis affects them
  • asking elected representatives to speak up about arthritis in the Assembly and continuing to lobby on the issues that matter to you
  • reminding government of the key messages in our Election Manifesto.

We are calling for:

  • Better support, diagnosis, and treatment of musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions and recognition as a healthcare priority.
  • Timely access to joint-replacement surgery for people who need it
  • More investment in support for self-management so that people with arthritis can manage their condition.
  • Action to address the impact of arthritis on people’s ability to work.

Will there be an Assembly?

At the time of writing the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) said they would not nominate ministers until there had been "decisive action" on the protocol. All the successful MLAs have signed the membership roll, and the Assembly met for the first time on Friday 13 May to elect a Speaker. Unfortunately, a Speaker was not elected. This means that:

  • There can be no debates, committees, or private member bills, nor Assembly scrutiny of ministers.
  • No appointment of a First and deputy First Minister.
  • The current ministers can continue to oversee their departments in a caretaker capacity, however, they do so without being part of an executive, limiting their powers.

There are still opportunities to influence

Even without a Speaker, the ministers that were in post before the election can continue to head their departments for up to six months.

This means there will be plenty of opportunity for influencing, particularly the Health Minister, as we’ve done previously with our joint replacement petition and our proposal for a support package for people waiting for surgery and treatment.

Anything previously approved can continue, but major decisions that require the approval of a full Executive, like the budget and programme for government would not be approved, which is bad news for the health service.

Hopefully there will be movement soon and the Assembly will be able to fully function. However, if an Executive is not formed within 6 months, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is obliged to call another election.

Whatever happens, we will continue to influence all the elected representatives and key stakeholders to ensure arthritis moves to the top of the agenda when the Assembly is up and running. Watch this space.

Get involved

We’d love as many of you as possible to be involved in our influencing work. Email us at NIPolicy@versusarthritis.org if you want to be part of the change for people with arthritis.

We are here for you

Follow Northern Ireland Versus Arthritis on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with all our latest activities in Northern Ireland.

  • If you would like to talk to someone, you can call our free helpline on 0800 5200 520
  • Chat to our Arthritis Virtual Assistant (see the blue icon at the bottom right of your screen)
  • Join our online community

For local support, including pain management programmes, support groups, and services for young people and families take a look at In Your Area. Alternatively, contact our Belfast office on 028 9078 2940 or email northernireland@versusarthritis.org