Arthritis Research UK meets the Health Secretary
What would you say to Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, given half the chance? Arthritis Research UK’s ‘osteoarthritis champion’ Terry Lawrence was among a small group of patients and healthcare professionals given that opportunity. She reports back below.
Published on 04 August 2014
I was delighted to learn that the Secretary of State for Health had expressed a particular interest in understanding more about arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, which may not be getting the best services in the new structure of the NHS. I travelled from Birmingham to London to share my own experiences of living with osteoarthritis.
During the round-table discussion, Jeremy Hunt was at pains to give everyone the opportunity to make their points, and we were told by his civil servants that a report would be written up to reflect the discussion and circulated for our approval, providing an opportunity to add any issues we had not had chance to raise at the meeting. So we felt confident that a comprehensive picture of the key issues would be considered at the highest level.
Mr Hunt introduced himself as knowing very little about arthritis. He explained that he had watched his grandmother, who lived to be 100, suffer the pain and limitations of arthritis for the last 25 years of her life. I wondered whether Mr Hunt may have had the perception (as I had had at one time) that arthritis is something that happens to much older people, whereas most of the patients in our group speaking to him were in their 50s and 60s, and we still had a spring in our step!
We raised some key issues which were common to all seven patients around the table, despite our having different conditions. They were:
- lack of early diagnosis and a time lag before the start of appropriate treatment
- lack of special interest and skills about arthritis among GPs – there are specialist clinics for things like diabetes and coronary heart disease, but not for arthritis, despite the fact that each year one in five of us consults our GP with a musculoskeletal problem.
- arthritis is not being ‘incentivised’ so there is no compulsion for GPs to make it a priority1 or acknowledge the need for additional training
- restrictions imposed by commissioners of care (clinical commissioning groups or CCGs) such as limited treatment time
Jeremy Hunt was troubled by an example of these restrictions in relation to my experiences of physiotherapy. I told him about my own experience of considerable pain after my shoulder replacements. I had had treatment from five different physiotherapists, who didn’t make much difference, before I finally found one who has reduced my pain and increased my mobility. But I need treatment on a regular basis to keep me pain-free. I have had the six sessions allowed in the NHS and subsequently the local clinical commissioning group has refused further treatment. I am therefore obliged to pay for it myself. This is one of the ‘hidden costs’ of arthritis.
I was impressed that Jeremy Hunt really did listen to the issues we raised, and succinctly and accurately summed up the main points of our discussion. It’s excellent that Arthritis Research UK has been able to raise the profile of the disease and get some of the key issues across at the highest level.
But of course the questions now are – how and when will these issues be taken forward? Where will the resources come from to provide these services on the NHS; how will quality standards be ensured? If the emphasis is on preventing people going into hospital, how will primary care cope with the extra pressure – and how can we ensure that the treatment of arthritis gets adequately responded to and resourced?
And in the interests of balance, it would be interesting to know what the shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has to say about NHS services for arthritis patients…Andy, over to you?
At the request of the Secretary of State for Health, Arthritis Research UK organised a round-table meeting in London in April to discuss musculoskeletal conditions. The event was attended by people with a variety of conditions, including osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis and vasculitis. They were joined by GPs, nurses and physiotherapists, including Dr Tom Margham, the Arthritis Research UK primary care lead, and Professor Peter Kay, national clinical director for musculoskeletal conditions.
The policy and public affairs team works with all political parties to raise the profile of musculoskeletal conditions and influence the policy agenda.
1 There are two incentives in place in primary care for the management of rheumatoid arthritis