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Professor Elaine Hay

Elaine HayElaine Hay is professor of community rheumatology at Primary Care Sciences Research Centre, Keele University and the Haywood Hospital, Stoke on Trent.

What does your work involve?

As professor of community rheumatology at Primary Care Sciences Research Centre, Keele University, and the Haywood Hospital, Stoke on Trent, my research role includes leading a multidisciplinary clinical trials group which aims to improve the primary care management of common musculoskeletal conditions. We have four completed trials and two are ongoing, covering a range of complaints such as tennis elbow, shoulder painspinal pain and knee osteoarthritis. Our portfolio has recently expanded to include complementary medicine – specifically acupuncture for knee pain, funded by Arthritis Research UK.

Our newest developmental work, funded by an Arthritis Research UK programme grant, concerns the physiotherapy management of low back pain. Our Research Centre has a commitment to increasing the research capacity and capability within primary care and includes GPs, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists and nurses.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

For nearly 15 years (scary!), starting with an Arthritis Research UK clinical research fellowship in 1990 and more recently through project grants and a programme grant. The fellowship in 1990 was related to lupus. I then took a change in career direction to community rheumatology and have had fantastic support from Arthritis Research UK through project grants for our tennis elbow, shoulder, neck pain and two knee pain trials.

Most recently, we were awarded an Arthritis Research UK programme grant to develop better methods of treating back pain. Alongside this I thoroughly enjoyed my time as chairman on the Arthritis Research UK educational subcommittee in the late 1990s – particularly the opportunity it gave me to promote allied health professional involvement with Arthritis Research UK – and being the resident doctor in Arthritis Today for several years.

What do you do in a typical day?

Currently I spend about a day and a half engaged in clinical work – outpatients at the Haywood Hospital and in the community, ward round and leading our multidisciplinary back pain service. This keeps my feet on the ground and maintains important links with clinical colleagues. Most of the rest of the time is spent at Primary Care Sciences Research Centre at Keele University.

We moved into purpose-built premises about 18 months ago and our multidisciplinary research team has now grown to more than 50 individuals. A typical day there will be spent in project meetings, supervising PhD students and trying to find time for academic activities such as paper and grant writing.

What's your greatest research achievement?

Succeeding in getting our latest back pain trial published in The Lancet!

Why did you choose to do this work?

Initially, my interest in epidemiology was stimulated during my time as a clinical research fellow at the Arthritis Research UK Epidemiology Unit in Manchester. I was then attracted to Stoke on Trent because it has the best rheumatology unit in the country (OK, so I'm biased). As usual, the Stoke rheumatologists were ahead of the field and spotted the importance of primary/secondary care links at least 10 years before this hit the political agenda.

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

On many levels – from developing services locally to meet the needs of people with arthritis, to working with general practitioners and allied health professionals to help them extend their roles, to working with the Department of Health to try to move musculoskeletal problems up the political agenda.

When I took up my post as a community rheumatologist there was very little evidence from primary care on which to base treatment choices. That has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and I'm proud that the work from my research group has contributed to that.

What would you do if you weren't a scientist?

I'd be a world-class three-day event rider (well, in my dreams!)

About Elaine

My spare time is spent with my partner, Mike, trying to restore order to our newly refurbished Staffordshire farmhouse. What started as a modest project turned into a job creation scheme for local builders – they're still with us two years down the line. We have an ever-growing menagerie of three horses, two dogs, two guinea pigs, one rabbit and four collective children (sorry about the order, kids – it doesn't reflect priority!).

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2005, issue 128.

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