August 2019 network news

What's coming up over the next few months

Best Practice

Versus Arthritis will be opening its doors to our very own MSK theatre at this year’s Best Practice in Primary Care conference.

We will be running sessions on:

  • Examination of the spine, knee and shoulder (linking to our Core Skills programme)
  • Fit notes and work outcomes for people with MSK conditions
  • Fibromyalgia - helping the heart sink
  • Managing gout in primary care
  • Working with first contact practitioners
  • Diagnosing inflammatory arthritis.

Join us at Europe’s largest annual conference for general practice and the wider primary care community for two days of free training, knowledge sharing, networking and peer support.

Book now at Best Practice.

Ignoring arthritis is no longer acceptable.

Since we launched Versus Arthritis, more than half a million of your likes, shares and stories on social media are showing people with arthritis that they are not alone. You will see our media campaign this month across the nation encouraging people to join us. Signpost your patients to our helpline, our online community or virtual assistant, any time of the day. Together, we can help push back against arthritis.

Declare yourself Versus Arthritis now.

Attend our “Professionals Versus Arthritis” event on 9 October

“Professionals Versus Arthritis” is an exciting new event showcasing best practice and innovation in musculoskeletal care in Northern Ireland.

The event takes place in the Long Gallery, Stormont on 9 October 2019 (starting with a finger buffet) from 6pm to 8.30pm and is open to health professionals, voluntary sector and political representatives.

The event will show the wide range of health specialists doing everything they can to defy arthritis and other MSK conditions and is a great opportunity for learning, sharing and networking. You will hear about homegrown developments in the MSK field, including updates from rheumatology, physiotherapy, podiatry, occupational therapy, orthopaedics, biologics, primary care and research.

Importantly, the evening is also a call to action - bringing the MSK ‘family’ together to highlight the impact of MSK conditions on mental health – and asking what we can all do to push back against it.

“Professionals Versus Arthritis” is a key opportunity for us to come together from research, primary care, secondary care and voluntary sector - to improve the patient pathway experience from the outset.

We are Versus Arthritis. Are you?

A full programme will be available soon but you can book now to

ESCAPE-pain goes national

Article courtesy of Health Innovation Network

ESCAPE-pain is an evidence-based rehabilitation programme for older people with chronic knee and/or hip pain/osteoarthritis. It integrates exercise, education, and self-management strategies to dispel inappropriate health beliefs, alter behaviour, and encourage regular physical activity. Participants attend 12 sessions twice weekly for 6 weeks, in groups of about 8-12 participants.

ESCAPE-pain has been shown to:

  • Reduce pain, improve physical function and mental wellbeing, and improve health beliefs.
  • Sustain benefits for up to two and a half years after completing the programme.
  • Reduce healthcare utilisation (medication, GP appointments, secondary care) equating to an estimated £1.5 million total savings in health and social care for every 1,000 participants who undertake ESCAPE-pain.

To hear direct from participants, visit the personal stories page on our website.

The ESCAPE-pain programme was developed by Professor Mike Hurley and is hosted by the Health Innovation Network. Nationwide scale-up is currently being supported by NHS England and Versus Arthritis.

How to find and refer into a local class

ESCAPE-pain offers an opportunity to reduce the number of GP consultations for knee and hip pain and reduces prescriptions of painkillers for this group.

The programme is currently available in over 200 sites across the UK in a variety of venues from hospital physiotherapy departments to leisure centres and gyms, from church halls to community centres. Over 11,000 people have attended the programme, with GP referrals being the predominant route for people to access a class.

Find a local class here. For SystmOne users there is a link to ESCAPE-pain on the Osteoarthritis resources tab.

If ESCAPE-pain is not available in your area, email to get it started.


Twitter: @escape_pain


The state of Musculoskeletal Health - annual report for 2019

How many people have musculoskeletal conditions in the UK? How are these conditions affecting their lives? What is the breakdown by age, gender, and condition? What is the impact of MSK conditions on work, health services, and the wider economy?

Last month we published the annual State of Musculoskeletal Health 2019 to help answer these questions and many more. We collect the best available data on the prevalence, risk factors, comorbidities, and impact of MSK conditions in the UK, so you can understand more about the people living with and affected by these conditions.

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions such as arthritis and back pain affected an estimated 18.8 million people across the UK in 2017. They accounted for more than 22% of the total burden of ill health (morbidity) in the UK, and low back and neck were the biggest cause of ill health overall across all ages.1 While these conditions are incredibly common, many people affected are still not receiving the recognition and support they deserve and need.

The State of Musculoskeletal Health is a resource for health professionals, policy makers, public health leads and anyone interested in MSK health. We believe that with the best information you can build awareness, make more informed decisions, feel more confident and ultimately help more people with MSK conditions.

Read the full report here, which includes powerful short stories from people with arthritis themselves.

1 Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017) Results. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Seattle, 2018.

Campaigns: New report launched – Working it out: Demanding more from the Access to Work Scheme

We’ve launched our new report Working It Out: Demanding More from the Access to Work scheme, which reveals that thousands of people with arthritis are missing out on vital support from the Government’s Access to Work scheme.

Access to Work can be used to pay for practical help, such as specialist equipment, transport to and from work and support for workers.

The report has found issues around communicating the scheme, a lack of appropriate equipment to support people, problems arranging travel to and from work and an inadequate review process.

A survey of 1,582 people with arthritis and related conditions from across the UK illustrates failings with access to work as well as within the scheme itself.

Less than 10% of people with arthritis we spoke to had used the Access to Work Scheme, despite arthritis and related conditions being the biggest cause of workplace disability in the UK.

John, who has arthritis and is blind, said: “I haven’t seen much in terms of change since I first used Access to Work in 2006. Since the Department for Work and Pensions became centralised, you’re a number, not a person who a case officer can relate to. It’s okay for Access to Work to contact you, but as soon as you try to contact them, the barrier goes up. There’s also a huge challenge for people who like me have arthritis in their hands.”

We want more for people with arthritis

We’re campaigning to help thousands of people like John get the support they need to remain in work. We’re calling on the Government to urgently address the failings in the current system and ensure people with arthritis can stay in the jobs they value.

What can you do?

  • Add your name to our open letter, which calls for improvements to the Access to Work Scheme.
  • Make your patients aware that support is available from the Government through the Access to work scheme by going online to or calling 0800 121 7479.

Read the full report, Working it Out: Demanding More from the Access to Work scheme.

Is there a way to prevent steroid-induced bone loss in children and young people?

Despite the successful introduction of biological therapies for children and young people with rheumatic diseases, a significant proportion continue to be treated with steroids as, for many, this remains the only means of treating and controlling their condition. However, steroids are known to contribute to the bone loss, bone pain and increased risk of fracture seen in this population.

In order to help prevent steroid-induced bone loss, evidence-based strategies are in place, although at present these only exist for adults. Currently, paediatric rheumatologists do tend to prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements to children and young people, or bisphosphonates for those at higher risk, in order to help minimise the negative effects of steroid treatment. However, lack of evidence means there is little consensus between healthcare professionals as to which treatments are best for skeletal protection in children.

In order to overcome this, a Versus Arthritis funded study at Queen’s University Belfast has successfully undertaken the first randomised controlled trial large enough to answer the question of whether an active form of vitamin D (alfacalcidol) or a drug known to prevent bone loss in adults (bisphosphonate risedronate) can help to prevent or reduce bone loss in children receiving steroids for chronic rheumatic diseases.

A total of 217 children and young people aged between 4 and 18 years were successfully recruited to the trial and split into three groups: placebo, alfacalcidol treatment or risedronate treatment. The researchers found that those receiving risedronate treatment had significantly increased bone mineral density compared to placebo or alfacalcidol treatment after one year, providing the first substantial evidence for the effective use of bisphosphonates to prevent steroid-induced bone loss in children.

As a result of their findings, the researchers advise consideration by healthcare professionals for the use of bisphosphonate risedronate in children and young people who are receiving steroids for inflammatory conditions, especially for those who are at high risk of fracture.

More information can be found in the published article.