by Sue Brown, CEO ARMA

Covid-19 has brought out some amazing collaboration in MSK. Different parts of the system have been affected in different ways – the issues restarting surgery are enormous, there is a back log of people who need to see a rheumatologist, large numbers of staff from community services redeployed into covid wards and are now returning to their previous roles.

In the middle of all this have been patients, struggling to navigate a system in chaos. Unable to get treatment, planned surgery delayed, people in pain wondering when they might be seen. There have also been patients discovering new ways to access services, wondering why they were never offered on line pain management groups or treatment at home before.

Everyone is clear that we can’t get out of this unless the system works seamlessly, efficiently, ensuring patients get to the right person first time. But we also can’t get out of this unless we listen to patients. Those that have been benefiting from innovations need to keep them. Those who will be waiting, in some cases for a very long time, need good communication, support and understanding. They need to know that everything possible is being done to get them what they need as soon as possible.

Which is why it has been so great to see MSK include the patient voice in the response to the pandemic. There has been an MSK coproduction group bringing together individuals with lived experience and wider intelligence about patient experience to inform policy. There have been people with MSK conditions involved in the various NHS Change Challenge groups. ARMA has been bringing the collective intelligence from our patient member organisations into the discussion. It’s important that policy makers understand the gaps between what should be happening and what is actually happening; that assumptions (like everyone would prefer a face to face appointment) are challenged.

I’ve been involved in many alliances in my time. ARMA is very unusual in bringing the patient and professional voice together. One thing the last three months has shown me is just how powerful this makes us. We have just welcomed the Psoriasis Association into our membership, and I feel we are going from strength to strength. Which is just as well, because it’s that combined voice that we need right now.

Ultimately, if the route out of this crisis doesn’t work for patients then it doesn’t work.

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