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Publication of Arthritis Research UK policy report Working with Arthritis 

Arthritis Research UK has published the new policy report Working with Arthritis, which describes the impact of musculoskeletal conditions on the UK workforce and gives the perspectives of people with musculoskeletal conditions about working life. It considers:

  • current health and work policy and programmes
  • the health and work research agenda
  • relevant employment legislation.

It also highlights some examples of good practice by employers, and sets out a series of recommendations to address the needs of people with musculoskeletal conditions who want to work.

The report is intended for:

  • policy makers
  • healthcare professionals
  • employers
  • academics
  • individuals with an interest in health and work.

Please click here to download the report.


Publication of 1st annual report - rheumatoid and early inflammatory arthritis national clinical audit
Early referral and assessment by rheumatology services is vital in preventing disability. However, for the first time, this report shows that many patients in England and Wales are experiencing long waiting times, which fall outside of the recommended guidelines and standards developed by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). We have collected data from 6,354 patients from 143 trusts and health boards, which represents almost all NHS rheumatology providers in England and Wales.

Key findings include:

  • 1 in 6 patients were referred by their GP to rheumatology services within 3 days, and one quarter of patients waited more than 3 months to be referred
  • 38% of patients were seen by rheumatology services within 3 weeks of referral
  • 12% of patients reported that they were unable to work or needed frequent time off work due to their condition, whilst only 42% recalled being asked about their work status.

The audit reveals clear links with the availability of early arthritis clinics and consultant staffing levels to access to services, whilst delays also occurred where referral letters did not mention that inflammatory arthritis is suspected. These data should also be seen in the context of a large increase in the number of referrals to rheumatology over the last few years. From the work findings, it is evident that early disease is a crucial time for work-related interventions, before instability translates into long-term work incapacity. Over the next few months, we will be working with Cardiff University to implement a regional training programme to encourage members of the MDT to talk about work issues in the course of consultations.

We know that a number of trusts and health boards have already used the data to reconfigure their services. We’ll start to analyse data from the 2nd year of the audit in due course, which will quantify improvements to patient care in more detail. The next report is due to be published in the summer.

The first reports can be accessed here.

By Ali Rivett, Director of Clinical Affairs at the British Society for Rheumatology


Improving conversations around health and work: new study published
Results from a pilot study aiming to increase the knowledge, skills and confidence of rheumatology team members to support work-related conversations with patients in outpatients clinics have been published in Occupational Medicine.

Fit for work? Evaluation of a workshop for rheumatology teams, summarises a study led by Professor Debbie Cohen, Professor Sayeed Khan and Naomi Marfell from Cardiff University in collaboration with the British Society of Rheumatology (BSR), and the Fit For Work Coalition with a funding grant from AbbVie UK.

People with musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may rapidly cease work prematurely because of ill-health. A recent survey by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society showed that a quarter of respondents with RA experienced job loss within a year of diagnosis and 50 per cent stopped work within six years [1]. The important role for the NHS in helping to address sickness absence and to support people to get and stay in employment was clearly set out in the Five Year Forward View vision for the NHS [2].

The Cardiff team developed a 3-hour face-to-face workshop to equip and build confidence among members of the rheumatology multidisciplinary team to have better conversations with patients about their health and work. Piloted in five sites with 99 participants, the training was positively evaluated through pre- and post-workshop questionnaires:

  • 89% of respondents found the workshop useful or very useful
  • 88% of respondents found it relevant or very relevant
  • 79% of respondents said it had an impact or considerable impact on their practice

Respondents also reported an increase in confidence in managing conversations around health and work.

The Fit For Work UK Coalition believes that training for healthcare professionals is essential to supporting people with long-term conditions to have early and positive conversations around how their condition may be impacting their work, and how best to manage this. If work is to become fully recognised as a health outcome, training must form part of speciality competencies and supported by professions and commissioners.

The Fit For Work UK Coalition welcomes plans for workshops for rheumatology teams to be extended throughout the UK, managed by the BSR with local champions to help incorporate resulting learning into everyday practice.

[1] National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, Invisible Disease: Rheumatoid Arthritis and Chronic Fatigue, February 2014
[2] NHS England, Five Year Forward View, October 2014

"My plan for life with..." launched

World Arthritis Day, 12 October 2015, saw the launch of “My plan for my life with…”, a new guide designed to support and empower people with chronic musculoskeletal conditions to manage their condition better and to feel more in control of their care. The guide aims to help people with musculoskeletal conditions to make the most of their contact with healthcare professionals. It includes sections where they can note down how they are feeling, any questions they want to ask, or to record test results and next steps in their treatment and care. It also signposts sources of information and support.

The Fit for Work UK Coalition is delighted to have been able to contribute towards to the creation of this resource by facilitating the work of the expert Steering Group of organisations which led on its development. The Steering Group included many of the members of the Fit for Work UK Coalition and its work was supported by a dedicated grant from AbbVie.

“My plan for my life with...” can be downloaded here. The current guide is available as a downloadable editable PDF and an A5 ring-binder with inserts. The guide will be piloted in both of these formats, and, depending on feedback, the resource may also be made available in other formats.

We hope that that people with musculoskeletal conditions will find the new guide useful and that it will enable them to think about how their condition affects their health and wellbeing and how they can work with their healthcare professional team to manage their condition as well as they can. By supporting people to self-manage, patients move away from being passive recipients of care to being active partners in their own health together with their healthcare professional team. Helping people to manage their health better on a day-to-day basis brings benefits both to individual patients and to the NHS as a whole.


Politicians warned of major health & productivity challenge facing UK workforce

Politicians across all main political parties have today (21 July 2014) been challenged to respond to the growing burden of ill-health in the UK’s workforce. Fit For Work UK – a coalition of healthcare professionals, policymakers, employers and patient groups – has warned that by 2030, almost half of UK workers will have at least one chronic health condition which will affect their work productivity and, as a result, the competitiveness of the UK economy.

In its call to action, Is the UK Fit for Work?: Confronting the challenge of UK workforce health, the coalition argues that the costs of ill-health in the UK workforce will far exceed the current £100 billion estimate1 as long-term sickness absence, ‘presenteeism’ (attending work when ill) and work disability rise over the next twenty years. An ageing workforce and later retirement are also forecast to increase the proportion of workers leaving employment early as a result of their health.

Research already highlights the growing challenge the UK’s economy faces with around 17 million people of working-age – roughly half of the workforce – believed to face at least one long-term health condition by 2030.2 In the light of this, the coalition believes the UK urgently needs to tackle the problem with the following five-point plan:

  1. A comprehensive cross-government strategy and programme for health and work
  2. Clear national leadership with the appointment of a National Clinical Director for Health & Work
  3. Accessible information for people with long-term conditions to help them stay in work
  4. Measures that capture health and return to work in NHS frameworks, and incentivise clinicians to regard return to work as a clinical outcome of care
  5. Effective incentives to reward healthcare providers who support people with long-term conditions to return to work

Commenting on Fit For Work UK’s call to action, its President, Professor Stephen Bevan, said: “Over the next 20 years an increasing proportion of the ageing UK workforce will retire later and develop chronic illnesses. The UK requires urgent action now to prevent this trend developing into a crisis of public health and impaired labour productivity.  It is only by developing a cross-government strategy and improving the dissemination of the tools needed to empower people with long-term conditions, that this challenge can be met.”

Fit for Work Coalition member Prof Karen Middleton, CEO of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, commented: “Government policy focuses on reducing welfare costs, but there are millions of people in work whose ill-health threatens their job security and productivity. Simple, early and joined-up action, such as commissioning self-referral physiotherapy services, to help workers to manage conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders – the cause of 35m lost working days each year – can save money and improve the quality of working lives for millions.”



Notes to Editors:

  1. The Fit For Work UK Coalition is an active partnership of healthcare professionals, policymakers, employers and advocacy groups. We represent individuals from the leading think tank on workforce effectiveness and a range of professional and patient groups and organisations supporting people with long-term conditions, particularly musculoskeletal conditions. Our members are: AbbVie, the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA), BT Group, Capita, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS), National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), The Work Foundation, and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).
  2. The call to action is available to the media from the press office.
  3. Lancaster University’s Work Foundation transforms people’s experience of work and the labour market through high quality applied research that empowers individuals and influences public policies and organisational practices. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.



1 Black, Carol. (2008) Working for a Healthier Tomorrow. London: TSO. Available at:

2 Vaughan-Jones, Helen and Barham, Leela. (2010) Healthy Work: Evidence into Action. Available at: