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Dr Tim Rapley

Dr Tim RapleyTim Rapley is a lecturer in medical sociology at the University of Newcastle.

What does your work involve?

I’m trained as a social scientist and I work closely with clinical colleagues in both child and adult services. Our work focuses on getting people better access to the best care, be it through educating and training clinicians or enabling people with arthritis and their families to get access to the right information and support. I undertake mainly qualitative research (so interviewing people, audio or video recording consultations, or observing clinical teams at work) and focus on finding practical solutions to the problems they encounter.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

They’ve been supporting my work for over seven years. I’m currently working on a range of studies they’ve funded, including: helping support young people with arthritis to make more informed decisions; using the internet to raise the public’s awareness about childhood arthritis; understanding the information needs of family and carers of adults with rheumatoid arthritis; giving people with arthritis better access to clinical trials of the next generation of drugs; and supporting clinicians to collaborate in patients care across regions.

What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?

We’ve been working with the families of children and young people and clinicians to understand why there’s often a long delay between when the symptoms of arthritis first emerge and when they get the right diagnosis and the right care. Children are often given the wrong diagnosis and treatment and parents are sometimes made to feel that they’re wasting doctors’ time. Delay can range from months to many, many years. As a result of our research, we are now developing on-line education for a range of clinicians, targeting very specific messages to groups like general practitioners, paediatricians, paediatric and community nurses as well as student doctors and student nurses. This will raise awareness, build knowledge and support clinical skills training. We want to enable clinicians to more readily consider a diagnosis of arthritis when seeing young people.

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?

Better informed, supported and educated people – be they clinicians, people with arthritis, their relatives and carers or the general public.

What do you do in a typical day?

These days meetings, meetings and meetings! I very rarely get to leave the office, instead I’m coordinating ongoing research projects, discussing results, or supervising and teaching the next generation of researchers and clinicians.

What is your greatest research achievement?

We undertook some work on how expert clinicians across the UK examine children and young people with arthritis in order to create a model of best practice. We are currently creating online education resources for students, including demonstration films that show people how best to examine a child’s joints and interpret the findings. This will help support the education of a new generation of clinicians, so that delay in diagnosis will become a lot less common.

Why did you choose to do this work?

Initially, it all happened through a chance meeting with Professor Helen Foster, who leads the paediatric rheumatology team at Newcastle. She needed a quick chat about a research idea – eight years later we’re still working together on a wide range of projects! The work I do in both child and adult care has a positive impact on patients and families lives and that’s incredibly rewarding.

Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?

Yes, all the time. Working with children and young people with arthritis really opened my eyes to the impact on both those with arthritis as well as those people that surround them. Hence most of my work is focused on supporting and educating the extended network of people involved, from people with arthritis to clinicians to family and friends.

What would you do if you weren’t a researcher?

In an ideal world a professional Radio 4 listener! Saving that I’d do another PhD in the history of medicine, science and technology or work in the wine trade or train as a counsellor.

About Tim

My partner Connie and I recently bought a house and so spend much of our spare time renovating it. We love cooking, drinking interesting wine and walking. I’ve also just re-discovered the peaceful charms of sitting by a river or lake, in the middle of nowhere with a fishing rod in hand.

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.