BEATING the loneliness of a life changing, life-long disease is the aim behind a group which meets at Withybush Hospital each month.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic illness which leaves its sufferers living with throbbing or aching pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, as well as fatigue.

Yvonne Spencer set up the Pembrokeshire branch of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society to bring people living with the disease together to share the burdens they bear every day.

“This is a chronic disease but it is not recognised properly,” she said.

Because there are no outward signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis, it can be a struggle for people not living with it to understand it.

“With me for example, I hide it a lot. People don’t see how much I suffer. I have had people say ‘you look alright’, I have had people question my blue badge for the car,” added Yvonne

The group was set up in 2017, and it has more than 20 members.

According to the NHS, women are more likely to suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis than men, and while the group does have some male members, they are often quieter and more likely to speak to volunteers one-on-one than to turn up to large group meetings.

“There are quite a few men who have got it but they don’t like to say it,” said Yvonne.

Penny Lawrence, 58, from Pembroke, is a member of the group who has been coming for two years.

“You talk to people with the same problems you have got and it is nice to share what you are going through,” she said.

“It is nice to know it is not just you.”

Kay Evans, 57, from Letterston attended her first meeting with NRAS in January.

“To go from being so active to doing nothing, you do miss your old life. You grieve for who you were. Your friends carry on but you cannot,” she said.

“This is talking to other people about their experiences. It makes you feel you’re not so alone.”

While the group is able to offer emotional and practical support, medical support for Rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes be more difficult to attain.

Yvonne said she and other members of the group have had difficulty booking appointments at Withybush’s rheumatology department, because of issues recruiting new staff to replace doctors who have retired.

Joe Teape, Director of Operations and Deputy Chief Executive at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said the health board is currently experiencing some workforce gaps within the consultant team in the Rheumatology department.

There are plans to mitigate the disruption, including employing a locum consultant rheumatologist at Withybush as well as working to recruit a second locum.

“There are three other substantive consultant rheumatologists working within the health board and patients who need a review can be offered appointments to see any rheumatology clinician across Hywel Dda, if they are willing to travel between hospital sites,” said Mr Teape.

“In addition, there are clinical nurse specialists as well as a rheumatology nurse on site. The rheumatology advice line continues to operate and prescribing of medicines continues during this time.”

The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society meets in the Renal Room at Withybush Hospital on the last Thursday of every month from 6.30pm.

New members are welcome.

Call Yvonne Spencer on 01437 779290 for more information.