by Dr Wendy Holden, Consultant Rheumatologist

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Around one in seven people in the UK currently live with arthritis. This figure is expected to rise to one in four by 2030 [1]. It is the leading cause of pain and disability, costing the NHS a staggering £5 billion a year [2]. One in five of us consult their GP about a musculoskeletal problem like arthritis each year, that’s more than 100,000 consultations for arthritis every day [3].

Around 15,000 children and young people live with the condition [4]. Crucially, arthritis also impacts work performance: almost 31 million working days were lost in 2013 due to sickness absence caused by a musculoskeletal condition [5].

A fortnight ago, we marked National Arthritis Week (12 – 18 October), a critical moment in the history of the condition, which, I hope, will help to focus policymakers’ attention on the plight of millions lacking mobility and experiencing pain as a result.

National Arthritis Week is an initiative of Arthritis Research UK [6], which aims to raise awareness of the burden of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions amongst the healthcare community and the impact that it has on people living with the condition.

Across the sector, eminent doctors and health professionals have been calling for musculoskeletal conditions to be seen as a priority for many years. Arthritis Action is adding its voice to those calls.

Whilst a great deal of research goes into the prevalence, treatment and diagnosis of arthritis, it is important to highlight the significant role of self-management in coping with arthritis.

To mark our launch in June, Arthritis Action published new research, showing that people with arthritis feel isolated, scared about the future and don’t want to ask family, friends or doctors for help [7].

The researchers surveyed 777 people living with arthritis (both osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis) and held in-depth interviews with GPs and senior public health professionals. Interestingly, around half of our survey respondents felt that they needed to take charge of self-managing their condition because the NHS is over-stretched.

The research also revealed that the care pathway for osteoarthritis is particularly limited. The main gaps are in physical therapies and pain-clinics; with long waiting times often meaning that the patient does not receive the required treatment during a flare-up in their condition.

There is increasing recognition by GPs that mental wellbeing and preventing social isolation is an important part of patients’ management of arthritis, but counselling, therapy and social support services are lacking and need to be better integrated with medical care.

Furthermore, GPs acknowledge that much of osteoarthritis management relies on patients’ self-management of their condition, which only reinforces the very reason Arthritis Action was born: to help people with arthritis better manage their condition and endure less pain.

My message to the healthcare community is to be brave and bold in this period of publicity. It is time for policymakers at all levels to pull their heads from the sand and address arthritis as a priority.

It is time for a step change in the way we view arthritis, time to give people living in pain a voice, and importantly, time to listen to what they have to say.

Dr Wendy Holden is a Consultant Rheumatologist at North Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and UK Charity Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor.

 


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