Survey of Arthritis Awareness

ComRes poll finds just 10% of the British public believes their government is doing a good job of raising public awareness about long term conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

To coincide with the launch of the first ever Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week on 24-30 June, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) has published new research revealing the British public’s lack of knowledge about this chronic disease, which affects an estimated 690,000 people across the UK.

In producing ‘Breaking Down Barriers NRAS collaborated with leading opinion polling company ComRes1 to survey the attitudes of the British public and discovered very limited understanding about the disease’s symptoms, health impacts and risk factors. Headline findings are:


  • Only 10% of the British public believed their government was doing a good job raising awareness of long term conditions, including RA
  • Just  10% of the British public had seen information displayed in public about the symptoms of RA
  • Only 41% of the British public said they understood the symptoms of RA
  • 3.7 million in Britain have a personal connection to the disease2
  • Only 33% of the British public said they knew the difference between RA and osteoarthritis2
  • Nearly half of respondents (48%) were unaware that RA affects a person’s life expectancy and only 16% knew the disease affects the internal organs


Raising public awareness of the disease is vital as there is a known ‘window of opportunity’. If a person is diagnosed and started on appropriate treatment within 12 weeks of symptom onset, they are more likely to achieve remission or minimise the severity of the disease, meaning they can have a much better quality of life through avoiding severe pain and disability caused by irreversible joint damage. An NAO report3  showed that half of patients didn’t even visit their GP within this timeframe.

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Ailsa Bosworth, NRAS Chief Executive, said: “Public awareness of chronic conditions like RA is the elephant in the room. Existing approaches simply aren’t working and we need a more coordinated effort. Integrated healthcare starts with engaging healthy members of public before they become sick, not just letting the NHS try and pick up the pieces afterwards. It’s a big job, but I am confident that if we pool our resources better with government, we can make real inroads.”


nationalvoiceslogosquareJeremy Taylor, Chief Executive of National Voices, the coalition of patient organisations in England said: “£7 out of every £10 spent on health and social care arises from the needs of people with long-term conditions.  Yet public perceptions lag behind and we have a debate about healthcare that is too dominated by hospitals and emergencies. NRAS is right to call not only for better policies and services that meet these needs, but also a different conversation based on much better awareness of what is really going on”.



1 ComRes interviewed 2,074 GB adults online. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 16+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Data tables are available on the ComRes website,

Calculated by cross-referencing respondents’ answers to the following questions: those that said they, or friends and family close to them, had been affected by RA; those that said they understood the difference between RA and osteoarthritis; and those that correctly identified ‘crunching and grinding of the joints’ as not a symptom of RA.

National Audit Office, Services for people with rheumatoid arthritis. July 2009

Regional statistics are available on request, subject to demand.

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