We are fighting for better healthcare services together
By influencing and working with the key decision and policy makers, we have been able to improve healthcare services for people with arthritis and create a better working environment. We do this nationally working with the Government and HSE and also at a European level through our work with the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR).
The path to better care
Our main goal in advocating for better rheumatology services is to increase the number of rheumatologists in Ireland so that people with arthritis get faster access to the best care within their community. It is not long ago since Ireland had the worst record for rheumatology care in Europe with just one consultant per 400,000 people.
Today it stands at 1 for every 135,000 people. While we have made great strides, there is still a lot to be done before we have adequate healthcare services around the country for people with arthritis.
The immediate aim is to increase the number of consultant rheumatologists to 50. We are working to achieve this as part of the HSE’s National Clinical Programme for Rheumatology. We are also advocating for more specialised allied health professionals, such as nurse specialists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers.
We have been part of this initiative since its beginning in 2010 and, in that time, seven new consultant rheumatologists have been appointed, including a second consultant paediatric rheumatologist to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. Furthermore, the new appointments are mainly outside the Dublin region, making life easier for people in areas which were not previously served by a rheumatologist.
As well as the improvements in consultant numbers, the programme has worked to have 24 specialist musculoskeletal physiotherapists appointed, who have so far reduced the orthopaedic and rheumatology waiting lists by 20,000.
Arthritis Ireland's 100 day plan
Arthritis Ireland is asking for a commitment in the first 100 days of the next government to the appointment of 100 specialist rheumatology posts. 100 specialist consultants, nurses and therapists across the six hospital areas in the country wills ever waiting lists, radically improve the daily life of thousands of patients and save the HSE millions in unnecessary costs.
Our plan would cost approximately €7 million every year. At the moment, arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions are costing the state over €700 million in lost days at work alone. Nearly on million people - one in five of us - are living with some form of arthritis. There are currently 12,600 people waiting in crippling pain to see a Rheumatology Consultant, including 478 children. The cost of undiagnosed and untreated arthritis is colossal. But the pain of waiting for an adequate rheumatology service is even greater. These 100 posts will mean that people in every constituency in the country will have access to "the right person, right place, first time" model of care that they need.
Paediatric Rheumatology Clinic
More than 1,200 children are living with arthritis in Ireland today, making it as common as diabetes in under 12 year olds. Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is essential to prevent juvenile arthritis extending to multiple joints and resulting in a more positive outcome.
However, with over a two year waiting list and a substandard level of patient care and clinic conditions early diagnosis and vital treatment is unlikely. Ireland has one of the lowest levels of paediatric rheumatololgy resources in Europe per head of population.
That is why we have been working to gain approval and raise funds for a dedicated, appropriately staffed paediatric rheumatology clinic.
Medical card scandal 2014
Arthritis Ireland is deeply concerned at the number of people with arthritis who have lost their discretionary medical cards. In a survey, conducted by the charity, 60% of people with arthritis who have or had discretionary medical cards admitted they had been taken away or placed under review.
At the time of writing, we were rolling out a campaign to call on the Government to take action to resolve this issue and urging the HSE to ensure arthritis patients on expensive treatments, such as high-tech biologic therapies, are given medicals cards straight away.
Creating a better working environment
In the workplace, we are also working to improve the supports available to people with musculoskeletal diseases (an umbrella group including arthritis) so that they can continue in their jobs or get back to work.
Work is proven to be good for your health and it is important to people with arthritis, both financially and for their quality of life and wellbeing. There is also an enormous social cost. In Ireland, MSDs account for 7 million days in absenteeism - half of the total. That amounts to €750 million each year. €295 million is paid out in illness benefit.
As part of the Fit for Work coalition (stakeholders including employer and employee representatives and health professionals) we are working to improve employees’ ability to work with MSDs, reduce the impact of MSDs on workplace absenteeism and contribute positively to getting Ireland competitive again.
The coalition is also working with the Irish College of General Practitioners to review sickness certification to facilitate a more coordinated approach which will support more informed and appropriate intervention decisions.
Having a programme of early intervention is also vital as the average length of absence for people with MSDs doubles from 11 weeks to 22 when intervention is not in place. With this in mind, the coalition has proposed an early intervention programme to the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, based on international best practice that, if adopted, would improve the lives of people with MSDs and yield major savings for the Exchequer.