Relaunching the fight against arthritis
Published on 01 April 2010
Dr Liam O’Toole became Arthritis Research UK’s chief executive last November. The former Head of the Office for Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research, he has considerable experience in running health and medical research bodies. Aged 49, and married with three children, aged 16, 14 and ten, he lives in Wimbledon, south west London. A supporter of Liverpool FC, he enjoys squash and badminton, and is a youth rugby coach.
Why did you join Arthritis Research UK?
I am passionate about medical research and believe it can make a difference to people’s lives. I think that medical research charities can play a key leadership role in speeding up the development of new treatments so that they benefit patients. I’d like to use my experience to help do that for arthritis.
What are your ambitions for the organisation?
I believe we can do a lot more to take the pain away from sufferers and help people to remain active. For us, this means significantly increasing the amount of money we spend on research. We also need to get people really talking about arthritis and put arthritis firmly on the political agenda. To do all this we need to create a charity that is dynamic, innovative and plays more of a leadership role in everything it does.
Why have you changed your name from the Arthritis Research Campaign to Arthritis Research UK?
There are nearly ten million people in the UK with some form of arthritis and yet the level of understanding in the general public and the profile of our charity remains very low. We are committed to changing this and the new name is part of our profile-raising strategy – a rallying call if you like.
What do you mean by arthritis?
We use the term ‘arthritis’ in a broad sense to describe a range of conditions affecting muscles, bones, joints, and connective tissues; so that includes osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, lupus,osteoporosis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, polymyalgia, rheumatica, fibromyalgia, back pain, myositis, scleroderma and many others.
What will the organisation be doing differently?
You will see a much more dynamic organisation emerging over the next few years, much more proactive and vocal. We will be building up our leadership role in research, and to support this we will be rapidly building up our fundraising activities. As an organisation we have been relatively passive in speaking out about the important issues that matter. As we grow you will see us becoming more proactive, raising these issues with government and other stakeholders.
Why make these changes now?
As the only major arthritis research charity in the UK we have achieved a lot and have a lot to be proud of. However, the burden of disease remains massive and is growing. Meanwhile, medical research and the charity sector are changing rapidly. I believe we owe it to the people we represent to make sure we maximise the impact of everything we do.
What will be the key to Arthritis Research UK reaching this potential?
I think there are two main things here. First, we need to engage more people in the fight against arthritis; this means the public, volunteers, the medical and academic communities, government and the pharmaceutical industry. Arthritis Research UK can provide some leadership, but it has to be a collective effort. Secondly, as an organisation we need more focus and this is why we have developed our ten goals (see left). These goals will constantly remind us why we are here, and if we can concentrate our efforts on achieving them, this will ensure we maximise our impact for the benefit of patients.
How will the goals be used?
The goals will be used in a number of ways. As an organisation we will use them to inform planning. The charity will become increasingly focussed on reaching these goals. However, we can’t do this on our own. Increasingly we will be working with partner organisations in government, industry and other charities to address these goals.
Aren’t some of these goals very ambitious?
Absolutely! We owe it to the people we represent to be ambitious. We really want to have an impact on the disease.
Do you have a personal interest in arthritis research?
My mother had lupus and in the four years before she died she was in and out of hospital 16 times with complications. So I’m acutely aware that the diseases that Arthritis Research UK is fighting can have a major impact on people’s lives. I’d like to do something to change that.
Why should people support Arthritis Research UK?
If we are to have a major impact on arthritis we will need help from a lot of people. Not only do we need money to fund more research but we need volunteers to help us raise the profile of arthritis.
Will the organisation’s mission change?
We will remain focussed on taking the pain away for sufferers of all forms of arthritis and helping people to remain active. Everything we do is underpinned by the research we conduct to prevent and reduce suffering from arthritis. We will continue to provide information so that people can make informed decisions. We will do more to campaign to bring about change and improve quality of life for sufferers.