Making arthritis a public health priority in England

Two people walking down the street, one is using a walking-stick.

We have great news! After years of partnership working between Versus Arthritis and Public Health England (PHE), musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions will be one of its new priority programmes. We believe this commitment will help many people across England living with arthritis.

How did this all start?

We know that arthritis can affect every aspect of a person’s life, but many people are never given information on activities which could reduce the risk of developing certain kinds of arthritis, or how to reduce the pain it can cause once they have it. They only discover more once they’re in pain and going through the process of being diagnosed. We want more people to understand the contributing factors, and to know that being physically active is one of the best things anyone can do for their musculoskeletal health. But to make this a reality we knew we needed to get Public Health England (PHE) on board.

Who are Public Health England?

PHE is a Government Agency funded to improve the nation’s health. It does this by promoting healthier lifestyles, sharing information and expertise, and identifying and preparing for future public health challenges. An example of awareness campaigns it has run is the ‘One You’ campaign which encourages people in midlife to take control of their health to enjoy benefits now and in the future, or their campaign to encourage people to eat 5 pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables a day.

When PHE was established in 2013, musculoskeletal health was not among its priorities. In order to increase people’s awareness of the benefits of physical activity for their joints, we knew we needed to influence PHE that lifelong good musculoskeletal health is something it should help tackle on a large scale.

How have we worked with Public Health England?

Versus Arthritis and Public Health England have worked together on several different projects over the last five years:

  • Versus Arthritis worked with Imperial College London to produce and publish data on how many people in each geographical area live with MSK conditions. This information did not exist before hand, and these estimates have helped national and local decision-makers to realise the number of people affected in their local area, and make plans to support them. Versus Arthritis and PHE then published joint bulletins for local areas on osteoarthritis and back pain, and the data is now available on PHE’s public health profiles website.
  • We brought together a group of senior MSK researchers, representatives from Public Health England, and professional bodies to discuss a public health approach to MSK conditions. From this, a manifesto called ‘Musculoskeletal health: a public health approach’ was created.
  • Versus Arthritis, PHE, NHS England and the then Department of Health produced a report called ‘Providing physical activity interventions for people with musculoskeletal conditions’ to engage professionals on the benefits of physical activity, and to support local planning and implementation. In support PHE created the Musculoskeletal conditions: return on investment tool (2017), to help local decision makers provide cost-effective interventions for the prevention and treatment of MSK conditions.
  • We ensured the PHE ‘One You’ health promotion programme, included weblinks to our arthritis specific resources.
  • We published ‘Working with Arthritis’ which showcases the evidence for good MSK health at work.
  • We funded two roles at PHE to support their activities on MSK health and make relevant links to show where MSK health could be improved.
  • We contributed to a chapter in ‘All Our Health’ – a PHE resource to support healthcare professionals to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities.

What happens now?

As a result of all this work, we’re delighted that PHE has now prioritised MSK as a public health priority. We will continue to work in partnership with PHE to ensure that people understand the impact of arthritis and the benefits of lifelong good MSK health.