Treatment and Diagnosis
To help clinicians to identify the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and make prompt referrals to specialists, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines in 2009. This best practice guideline sets out the signs and symptoms of the disease and emphasises the need for early diagnosis, with urgent referral to a specialist rheumatologist on suspicion of RA. The commissioning of arthritis services, including the establishment of arthritis clinics, is the responsibility of local areas, taking account of the needs of the local population.
The national clinical audit of rheumatoid and early inflammatory arthritis published its latest report in July 2016 and assesses the quality of care by specialist rheumatology services. The report showed significant improvements in patient experience and the time taken to receive treatment, although there are areas where further improvement needs to be made. The report makes a range of recommendations, including improving the training and awareness and amongst GPs, and it encourages all participating organisations to reflect on their own performance and consider what more could be done.
NICE has published best practice clinical guidelines for the treatment of arthritis which highlight the importance of self-management, and lifestyle advice to help patients manage their condition, and live as independently as possible.
I agree with you that work is really important for ensuring that people with arthritis are able to lead fulfilling lives. I can assure you that as part of the Green Paper on work, health and disability, Ministers have explored ways to improve support for people with conditions such as arthritis to find and remain in work. Musculoskeletal conditions are one of the two key areas, along with mental health, which the Green Paper placed specific focus on.
The Government response to the paper recognised the important role of musculoskeletal care services, including physiotherapy, and launched new trials to help support people move back into work. It is also important to work more closely with employers to raise awareness of issues around disabilities and health conditions, and to share best practice. The Disability Confident campaign has done great work in this area in recent years, and a new Disability Confident Business Leaders Group was announced in the Green Paper to work alongside ministers and officials to increase employer engagement around disabled employment.
The Access to Work scheme is also being expanded to help more disabled people start or remain in work. Access to Work is receiving a real-terms increase in resources, enabling increased marketing of the scheme to raise awareness among those who could benefit from it. The new Personal Support Package announced in the Green Paper will also mean that people with health conditions such as arthritis will be able to receive employment support which is more tailored to their specific individual needs.
The Work and Health Unit has been established to lead the drive for improving work and health outcomes for people with health conditions, like arthritis, as well as improving prevention and support for people absent from work through ill health and those at risk of leaving the workforce. The Unit will seek to do this by improving integration across healthcare and employment services as well as supporting employers to recruit and retain more people with long term health conditions.