More than four in ten (44%) people with inflammatory arthritis had a hospital appointment to see their consultant cancelled or postponed during Covid-19.

The finding is contained in a survey published by Arthritis Ireland to mark World Arthritis Day, 12 October, which highlights the impact of the pandemic on people living with arthritis.

One-third (32%) of respondents had scans, blood tests or other tests cancelled or postponed, while 23% had an appointment with a physiotherapist or occupational therapist cancelled or postponed.

The research was undertaken during the summer at the end of the initial lockdown and was completed by 1,133 people.

Many people with arthritis are in vulnerable groups when it comes to the coronavirus, either due to having an autoimmune condition or being over 70. Three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed cocooned at some stage during the pandemic.

The research findings highlight the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of people living with arthritis. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents reported that they felt more nervous, anxious or on edge since the start of the pandemic than they would ordinarily. Seven in ten (72%) of respondents who were on immunosuppressants said that they often or sometimes felt more at risk of catching Covid-19, while 73% often or sometimes worried about being very ill if they got Covid-19.

The survey also looked at people’s levels of physical activity during the pandemic. While 39% of respondents said they were physically active on at least 5 days per week during the lockdown, 45% spent less time doing physical activity during the lockdown than before it. Less than one-quarter (23%) participated in online exercise classes – such as pilates, yoga, tai chi, Joe Wicks, seated exercises or spinning – during the lockdown.

According to Arthritis Ireland chief executive, Gráinne O’Leary, “People with arthritis have been significantly affected by Covid-19, in terms of their physical health and their mental well-being. It is particularly concerning that so many people have had their access to necessary health services adversely affected by the pandemic.

“We need urgent action to ensure that people with arthritis can access these services and healthcare professionals in a timely fashion. Arthritis is a chronic, destructive disease – it doesn’t stop while we’re trying to solve the pandemic,” she stated.

Prof. Geraldine McCarthy, president of the Irish Society for Rheumatology and consultant rheumatologist at the Mater Hospital said: “Covid-19 has had a significant negative impact on rheumatology services in our hospitals; in particular, on our capacity to see new and as well as existing patients.

“We urgently need to implement patient-centred, cost-effective and achievable solutions to address this situation. We need more rheumatologists and to appropriately deploy the expert staff we already have, like advanced nurse practitioners. Triage clinics led by specialist physiotherapists can make a major difference in the community.

“There are also immediately achievable solutions, like virtual clinics for suitable patients and investing in physical infrastructure dedicated to seeing rheumatology patients.

“If we don’t take these positive decisions now, we are storing up future problems and costs – for people with arthritis, certainly, but also for society and our economy. The government and the HSE need to act now,” Prof. McCarthy stated.

Suzanne Coombs (27) from Galway was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 2017. She’s had routine hospital appointments cancelled and postponed until next year, as well as injections into her discs postponed.

“My mental health has suffered considerably,” she said, “because the support structures I had been relying on aren’t available, and there is a lot of uncertainty regarding when they may be opening again.

The findings of the Covid-19 and arthritis report are published on the Arthritis Ireland website,

At 8pm Monday evening, Arthritis Ireland will stream an interview with Dr Richard Conway, consultant rheumatologist, about Covid-19 and arthritis. A recording can be viewed below.