Our campaign successes in 2021

16 December 2021

We would like to take a moment to reflect and share some of the amazing campaigning achievements from the past twelve months.

You’ve taken tens of thousands of campaigning actions in the past year, with many of you writing to your elected representatives. As a result, we’ve engaged with more politicians than ever before: over 200 Westminster MPs and at least 65 elected representatives across the devolved governments.

Thanks to you, we have been able to make real strides in ensuring that the voices of people with arthritis are heard across governments.

Joint replacement surgery waiting times

Our Impossible to Ignore campaign, calling for urgent action to bring down joint replacement surgery waiting times, has hit a number of important milestones.

Following the thousands of messages you’ve sent to elected representatives and the UK-wide 46,000 signature petition we handed in this summer, we’ve met with government ministers, welcomed major new funding to tackle the surgery backlog, and secured national plans to bring down treatment waiting times and provide support to those waiting.

  • In Northern Ireland, our ideas have been warmly received by Health Minister, Robin Swann, and we’ve made some useful new connections within health and social care policy, including a newly appointed MSK (musculoskeletal) lead.

  • In Wales, we spoke at the Senedd Health & Social Care Committee enquiry about the huge impact to individuals of longer waiting times for elective orthopaedics. Watch the session.

  • In Scotland, we held a national summit on waiting times bringing together the NHS, Scottish Government and other charities to agree actions to tackle the backlog and deliver support.

  • In England, our call for a support package to be in place for those waiting for surgery has been implemented by three local areas, and we’re working closely with the NHS to roll out further initiatives.

We know health services are once again under strain and are closely monitoring the impact this might have on planned joint replacements. We will make sure people with arthritis are not forgotten, asking governments and health bodies across the UK to ensure that joint replacement surgeries continue, wherever it is safely possible, and that people waiting for surgery are properly supported.

Our campaigners: Rob and Brenda

The voices and experiences of people with arthritis have been a crucial part of our Impossible to Ignore campaign.

Two of our campaigners, Rob and Brenda, have fantastic news to share about the life-changing joint replacement surgery they were desperately waiting for.

Rob’s story

“It was a cancellation, so I only had about 2 weeks’ notice, but it was such a relief to know that the time had finally come,” says Rob, who has been a familiar face of our joint replacement surgery campaign since before the pandemic.

“Recovery is going really well, and I have finally been discharged by my consultant. He was extremely happy with the way my progress has gone, and I’m so happy to have my life back.”

“I know how much the wait can get to you mentally. You really feel your operation day will never come. But I promise you, it will happen eventually. I look back now, without the pain and suffering that I lived through for so long, and feel so grateful that I’m finally able to return to a more normal life.”

Brenda’s story

If you tuned into BBC Panorama’s NHS: Wait or Pay? episode on 27 September, you’ll remember Brenda, one of the tens of thousands of people waiting for a joint replacement.

She shared the challenge of living with daily pain and severely limited mobility.

Her appearance resonated with thousands of people across the country, and led one kind person to reach out and offer to pay for her to have her surgery privately.

“I had a call from the BBC producer who interviewed me to say that somebody had come forward and wanted to pay for my surgery,” Brenda says.

“My initial response was disbelief before bursting into tears! It was not my motivation for agreeing to participate in the programme at all. I still have days where I think I must be dreaming.”

“I’m so glad to be getting my surgery, but that it had to come to this, rather than me getting it on the NHS, is a sign of how the system has failed me and so many others,”

“It took me a long time to accept that I had lost my independence and had to be dependent on others for pretty much everything. I will need to work on getting my confidence back.”

Arthritis in the workplace

We know that, for people with arthritis, being able to work flexibly can be the key to staying in work. It allows people to adapt their working patterns to accommodate the impact of their condition, pace activity, access medical care, and take emergency leave when needed.

  • We’ve provided evidence to the government on both flexible working and the disability employment gap.

  • We’ve shaped guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care (NICE) to help employers better support the health and wellbeing of employees with long-term health conditions (like arthritis) who are taking or returning from sickness absence.

  • We’ve worked in coalition with the Disability Benefits Consortium, a group of charities campaigning on welfare issues, to respond to the Government’s consultation on employment and disability benefits.

We will continue to work with other charities and the government to ensure that people arthritis are properly supported to stay in work, and that the employers are equipped to understand and accommodate the impact of arthritis and related conditions.

Helping people with arthritis get their COVID-19 vaccines

Since the announcement from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that people who are severely immunosuppressed should receive a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, we’ve been working hard to help people with arthritis who are eligible as part of this group access their third dose.

  • When it became clear that people with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus were not automatically included in the priority group for the first rollout of the vaccine, we successfully influenced the criteria of priority vaccination groups to ensure that all people with these conditions were prioritised for the vaccine.

  • We were part of a public awareness campaign, coordinated by the Department of Health and Social Care, to raise awareness amongst people with arthritis and related conditions that they may be eligible for vaccination as part of the priority group - Health charities back vaccines drive for those at risk.

  • We’ve developed a COVID-19 vaccine clinician template letter, (PDF, 116KB) to help people register as access their vaccine.

  • We’ve been working with a coalition of charities to push NHS England and the government on how to resolve the confusion regarding the third vaccine dose and the vaccine booster.

  • Due to our work alongside other charities, the Department of Health and Social Care now know they need to deliver clearer messaging on the different doses and clarify the eligibility criteria for the third primary dose.

If you have arthritis or a related condition, and are unsure whether you are eligible for a third primary dose or booster dose of the vaccine, we have developed a simple third vaccine / booster eligibility flowchart (PDF, 57 KB) to help you.

In 2022 we’ll continue to work with other health charities to hold the Government accountable for ensuring everyone who needs a third dose has easy, fast access. Find out more about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine eligibility.

Thank you

Your voices have been a crucial part of shaping our influencing work, and your stories have been our most effective tool in pushing for real change. We would like to thank you for making yourselves heard.

We’re here whenever you need us.

This has been our most successful campaigning year yet, but we know that hundreds of thousands of people with arthritis are still in need of support.