Delivering the Best MSK Health

by Sue Brown, CEO ARMA

I write this one year after the first lockdown was announced. It’s been a year of extremes, from the devastating number of deaths to the incredible success of the vaccination programme. For me personally it has been a year of being proud of the community that ARMA exists to represent and support. It has been a year of incredible collaboration and connection.

Our patient member organisations in particular faced a deluge of enquiries, innovated to provide online support and somehow managed to keep vital helplines open. Our members had more contact with each other than ever before through online meetings. They supported each other, shared intelligence and information. We pooled our information about the impact of COVID-19 on people with MSK conditions and fed this into NHS decision making, government departments and the Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi.

We provided a platform to share documents such as principles of vaccination and urgent and emergency conditions guidance. We contributed to a document outlining the experiences of people with MSK conditions during the pandemic and hosted a tweet chat on coproduction and MSK. Our coronavirus resources have been the most popular content on our website ever.

COVID-19 will cast a long shadow over MSK services. Some of those who, a year ago, were assessed as being able to wait three months for treatment, have now been waiting a year. Waiting lists have grown immense. People have not come forward with symptoms so there is an unknown level of hidden need that will emerge sometime.

Thanks in part to a small grant from the National Lottery Community Fund, ARMA is still here, growing in membership and increasing in impact and reach. As we reported in last month’s newsletter, there is now a Best MSK Health programme, aiming to ensure that when the NHS rebuilds services and works to clear the waiting lists, we will not go back to how things were before, but forward to improved MSK services. ARMA members are ready to engage with this, supporting transformation of local services, enabling co-production and a voice for people living with MSK conditions in the process.

Our members have risen to the challenges of an extraordinary year. I feel that the importance of MSK is beginning to be recognised. This feels momentous – we have worked for so long to raise the profile of the condition which is the biggest cause of years lived with disability in the UK.

Delivering the best MSK health possible is a not insignificant undertaking. I am confident that our members will rise to this with just as much determination as they responded in the last year.