Good musculoskeletal services – Now more than ever

by Sue Brown, CEO ARMA

As I write this, the news is of rising cases of Covid-19, rising hospital admissions and local lockdowns. All our readers will be concerned about what this might mean for NHS services. The prospect of going through all that again is frightening. One thing ARMA members, professional and patient organisations alike, are saying is that for good musculoskeletal health, now more than ever, MSK services matter.

We are not in the same place as we were in March and we cannot respond in the same way. MSK services must not be seen as expendable in the face of a health crisis. In March the NHS responded in the only way it could, and staff, including MSK professionals, stepped up magnificently. It took its toll on people with MSK conditions and things must be different second time around.

In March, all but urgent and emergency MSK services pretty much stopped. Surgery was cancelled leaving people in pain, there were delays in treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions potentially leading to lasting damage. Pain services were suspended and vital community MSK services cancelled. The impact of this continues to put pressure on primary care. The MSK health of the population deteriorated as long-term conditions were harder to manage and people became less active while working on makeshift desks at home. If the economy is to recover from the pandemic it will need a healthy workforce and as one of the leading causes of absence from work, MSK health is vital.

Now more than ever we need to stand up for the importance of MSK services. There are lots of ways the situation is different from March, such as more online support for self-management and a much better understanding of how and when to use virtual services. Across October, some of the best ideas from the NHS Change Challenge will be published. The first two are now up and there are some fantastic examples of innovation that can be used and adapted elsewhere. Services also need support from government, not least an effective testing service.

As we prepare it is also important to remember patients should be at the heart of all this. ARMA recently held our first ever tweet chat on co-production, patients and healthcare professionals improving care together. Over 50 people took part. Far from being a time-consuming distraction in a crisis, harnessing the support of patients can be an asset. Nothing is more of a distraction than a service that doesn’t work for the people it is intended to help.

October 12 – 20 is Bone and Joint Week. It feels particularly important this year to champion the vital role of MSK health and services. Please join us in saying, now more than ever, good MSK health matters. Do also book to attend our conference, which looks forward to how we can deliver better MSK services in the future. Attend live to get the best out of the day, but you also get online access for 6 months, so if you do end up missing any of the sessions you can catch up.

Amidst all the concerns good news is always welcome, so I am pleased that we have another new member – British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine have just joined ARMA, adding another voice to our work.

Whatever your reason for reading this newsletter, I wish you luck as you prepare for the months ahead. I hope that decisions of government and NHS management enable you to play your part. Because what you do matters, now more than ever.