Arthritis and COVID-19 - your questions answered

Updated: 16 November 2020

As the COVID-19 situation is changing and UK governments are revising lockdown measures, we’ve answered your most common questions to bring together the latest official advice and guidance.

Can I see my GP for an appointment?

We know many health services have been disrupted during the pandemic and your GP surgery may be very busy now and it might be more difficult to get appointments.

If you do need to contact your GP for help, you are advised not to go in person. The main reason for this is to reduce the number of people in waiting rooms and therefore lowering the risk of spreading coronavirus. 

You can:

You're likely to be offered an appointment by phone or video call where it's not essential to be seen face to face.

If you live in England and have a repeat prescription that you usually request at your GP surgery or pharmacy, you can order this online. In Wales you can use the MyHealth Online Service, in Scotland you all call the government helpline on 0800 111 4000 to arrange medicine deliveries and in Northern Ireland you can contact the COVID-19 Community Helpline.

Will my rheumatology or hospital appointments be affected?

Due to the pandemic, there have been some changes to appointments and treatments in hospitals, such as those at rheumatology departments.

Rheumatology departments have been advised to reduce the number of face-to-face appointments they have during the pandemic. This might mean that some appointments are delayed or rearranged to take place over the phone or as a video call.

If you think you have COVID-19, you should contact NHS 111 in the first instance. You can still contact your rheumatology team about any issues with your medication or your condition, and rheumatology advice lines have been advised to remain open for this reason.

Even with all these changes, some people will still need to attend the hospital in person and there are measures in place to make this as safe as possible.

You might be asked to attend appointments alone, to avoid arriving early or to get into the hospital through a certain route. You may need to have an appointment over the phone first before the rheumatology team arranges for you to come into the hospital for a face-to-face appointment.

If your blood test results have been stable for a long period of time, your rheumatology team might extend the time between them to reduce your need to travel. Discuss this with your team, as in some areas blood test services have been set up in other locations so people can still have their tests done.

If you usually go to hospital for your treatment, you should get in contact with your rheumatology team to discuss how this might be affected. In some cases medicine that is usually collected from the hospital is now being delivered to homes or collected from safe pick-up points.

What's happening with elective surgery?

Elective surgery is restarting in some areas of the UK. The British Orthopaedic Association and NHS England are working hard to ensure there’s clear guidance on getting the service up and running safely.

In order to cope with the backlog of surgeries, they are also developing a clear prioritisation list to make sure that essential surgeries are being carried out as quickly as possible.

For more information on elective surgeries, see the British Orthopaedic Association’s coronavirus FAQs.

Learn more about preparing for your surgery including what to expect before, on the day and after an operation.

How are waiting lists for surgery being updated?

In England, some NHS trusts are starting to contact people to find out their preferences for surgery.

Find out more about updating waiting lists for surgery (England only) and read tips to help you stay in good shape for your surgery when the times comes.

Flu and pneumonia vaccinations

If you've not had your annual flu vaccine, we would recommend you do so as soon as possible. This can be arranged through your GP or pharmacist.

To prepare for future increases in coronavirus cases and reduce pressure on emergency care the NHS will be contacting more people and asking them to have the free flu vaccine this year.

This includes:

  • people who have been shielding and members of their households
  • all school-aged children up to year 7
  • people aged over 65
  • pregnant women
  • people considered to be at risk because of pre-existing conditions, including children under 2.

People aged 50 to 64 will now also be asked to have the free vaccination later in the year. Read more about the flu vaccine on the NHS website.

If you are not contacted by the NHS about the flu vaccine and believe you should be eligible speak to your GP or pharmacist. If you are not included in the free vaccine programme but want to have the inoculation, they will be able to help you.

Speak to your healthcare team to find out if you need the pneumonia vaccine.

I take methotrexate/DMARDS/other drugs that suppress my immune system. Should I stop taking it?

The current advice is that you should not stop taking your medications unless advised to do so by your rheumatologist or rheumatology nurse.

By stopping your medication, you're more likely to have a flare, which could make you more likely to pick up an infection.

If you have concerns about your medication, speak to a member of your healthcare team.

COVID-19 advice for people taking steroids

Read the latest guidance about steroids and COVID-19.

Should I take ibuprofen?

There’s been some confusion as to whether or not it’s safe to take ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). The advice from the NHS is:

“The Commission on Human Medicines has now confirmed there is no clear evidence that using ibuprofen to treat symptoms such as a high temperature makes coronavirus worse.

You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat symptoms of coronavirus. Try paracetamol first if you can, as it has fewer side effects than ibuprofen and is the safer choice for most people.

Always follow the instructions that come with your medicine.” Read more on the NHS website.

I'm worried about my child who has an autoimmune condition. What's the advice for children?

The advice for children is the same as adults. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to affect children as severely. However, it's still important for children to wash their hands as they may be able to pass the virus on to adults.

Read Public Health England's guidance for parents and carers supporting children and young people's mental health and wellbeing

Read out information for children and young people.

Are there any arthritis treatments that might help treat people with COVID-19?

It’s been reported that the common arthritis drug, dexamethasone, can help save the lives of people who are seriously ill with COVID-19. Read more about the research.

Another drug which is being investigated is hydroxychloroquine – originally an antimalarial drug that’s also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and lupus.

Early studies have produced mixed results but the drug, among others, is now being included in a major clinical trial, backed by the UK government, that aims to find out if hydroxychloroquine could play a part in the treatment of COVID-19. Find out more about the RECOVERY trial.

We're here for you

Remember, you can get in touch at any time. Call our free Helpline on 0800 5200 520, or email helpline@versusarthritis.org (Mon-Fri 9am – 8pm), chat to COVA, our COVID-19 virtual assistant, 24/7, or connect with others on our online community. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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