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David Lewis speaks up in Parliament for people with arthritis

In October, David Lewis, who has had arthritis since childhood, spoke at Arthritis Research UK's parliamentary reception about the way he has overcome the condition to represent England at powerchair football.

David Lewis preparing for his speechAt the reception MPs committed to joining us in the fight against arthritis by becoming Arthritis Champions and campaigning in their communities for the changes set out in our groundbreaking manifesto Prevent, Transform, Cure.

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman (pictured below), MPs and peers heard David's account of how arthritis can affect someone’s life.

Here, David (pictured speaking, right) gives his take on the event and the importance of getting behind the Arthritis Champion campaign.

Speaking up in Parliament

A while ago I remember receiving a ‘hold the date’ email from Arthritis Research UK concerning speaking at a parliamentary event. In all honesty until about 48 hours beforehand little had I thought about what I was going to say, wear or what the location would be. Perhaps this is my way of not getting nervous. 

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman MP becoming an Arthritis Champion at our receptionSure enough closer the time I received final details of the event, then it hit me…I'm only going to speak at the House of Commons! 

At this point a little panic did set in. It wasn’t the fact I was nervous or scared or apprehensive, but rather the fact I only had to talk for 5 minutes. I'm not a stranger to public speaking for the charity and in general rather enjoy it once I get going. However, I normally speak comfortably for 25–30 minutes – having to speak for 5 minutes is far more challenging as you have to be very selective as to what you say.

I often have a powerpoint presentation when talking but I wasn’t going to have that luxury on this occasion. I prepared a rather flimsy A5 piece of paper with nothing more than a few sentences on it to jog my memory of things I ‘must’ say and things that I could ‘drop’ in. I rewrote my this on the way down to London on the train, still not nervous but rather excited and intrigued as to the whole experience.

My main aim was to focus on the impact of the condition on my life but also how I have overcome these challenges.

Grand setting

I arrived in plenty of time for the beginning of the event. Being a wheelchair user, you have to give yourself extra time as you don’t know what to expect and what weird and wonderful way you have to enter a building. Needless to say, this wasn’t any different but all the more enjoyable because of the grand setting. 

I couldn’t access the Houses of Parliament via the main entrance as there are steps, so I was escorted around to a different entrance gate and was met by armed security and police who were all extremely helpful. 

After being taken into the main reception area I was taken to the dinner room where the reception was taking place and began to mingle.  I recognised a few people but my main focus now was on my speech, which wasn’t that far away. 

Fighting arthritis (and nerves!)

"There must be an understanding of the condition in relation to the needs of the patient and how it impacts on their quality of life." David Lewis, 31 The nerves didn’t enter my head until a few minutes before. Arthritis Research UK’s medical director, Professor Alan Silman, and chief executive officer, Dr Liam O’Toole, spoke before it was my turn, but when introducing me they gave such glowing references that in fact it actually heaped the pressure on me, but obviously in a very good and positive way. Needless to say, I felt a few butterflies and my heart missed a couple of beats.

The 5 minutes seemed to fly by – in fact, I probably went over but I don’t think anyone noticed. I promised myself I'd be serious and not include humour as I didn’t think it would be the time or place. Having listened to the speeches before mine I realised that I could get away with a few funny lines, so I couldn’t resist.

I received a fabulous round of applause from the guests there and some excellent comments afterwards from MPs. People seemed to really put arthritis into context, the effects it can have and how important it is to fight it. One lady approached me and said that she cried when listening to my story.

Being asked to speak at such a prestigious event was a real honour and I'm only glad I can help the charity in this way.

Arthritis Champions and quality of life

Hopefully the manifesto and Arthritis Champion campaign will go a long way to supporting patients transform their lives to one that is focused on personal individual care and something which the patient can relate to. There must be an understanding of the condition in relation to the needs of the patient and how it impacts on their quality of life.

I hope the message of the manifesto gets out there and encourages parliamentary candidates to listen, take note and become Arthritis Champions, and help the millions of people in the UK with musculoskeletal conditions.

To find out more, and ask your next MP to become an Arthritis Champion, visit the Arthritis Champion campaign today.

Back to MPs queue up to be Arthritis Champions at our Parliamentary reception

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