Musculoskeletal support professionals in the community

by Dr Rob Hampton, GP and Occupational Physician

Across the world, chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis, inflammatory disorders and common regional conditions such as back, neck, shoulder, hip and knee pain now represent the single greatest cause of years lived with disability 1. When measuring their negative impact on employment, self-reported wellbeing and day-to-day function, chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions are every bit as invasive as other chronic conditions such as heart failure, diabetes and COPD. People with chronic conditions increasingly have access to dedicated, usually nurse-led services that provide support with exacerbations and link the patient to GP and secondary care when required. Even the traditional ‘Cinderella’ conditions of dementia and mental health now benefit from improved recognition and coordinated care. I would argue that chronic musculoskeletal conditions are now the true Cinderella in the UK, a fact recognised by NHS England through their partnership with the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA) called the MSK Knowledge Network. Its focus is on bringing knowledge and people together to improve outcomes for people with MSK conditions in England.

There are several projects that show the value of community-based support for people with musculoskeletal problems. The Joint Pain Advisor pilot in South London 2 is an example of the power of professional support to help people adapt to chronic pain problems and reduce demands on healthcare resources, particularly GPs. The power to encourage self-care and de-medicalise chronic musculoskeletal pain have been cornerstones of pioneering services such as the Back Pain Programme in South Tees 3 and the Pain to Prospects Programme in Leicester 4. These services win awards, are reproducible beyond the pilot phases and could provide a level of support to the people with chronic musculoskeletal conditions similar to that for conditions such as heart failure, diabetes and COPD. My impression is that the biopsychosocial approach required is just ‘not medical enough’ to receive CCG funding but ‘too medical’ to attract financing from the social or welfare sector.

Will the evolution of Primary Care Networks announced in January 2019 through the NHS long-term plan provide the right environment for ongoing community based musculoskeletal support? Let’s hope so. If ARMA take up this cause with NHS England, progress can be made.

References:

  1. Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 Collaborators. (2015) Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet 386:743–800. 
  2. A Walker, R Williams, F Sibley, D Stamp, A Carter, M Hurley. (2017) Improving access to better care for people with knee and/or hip pain: service evaluation of allied health professional‐led primary care. Musculoskeletal Care. https://doi.org/10.1002/msc.1189
  3. NHS England (2017) National Low Back and Radicular Pain Pathway 2017, Together with Implementation Guide http://www.ukssb.com/pages/Improving-Spinal-Care-Project/National-Backpain-Pathway.html. (accessed January 2019).
  4. Hampton R. (2013) From Pain to Prospects? – helping people on welfare benefits with chronic pain. Pain News. 2013;11(4):227 –230.

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