New policy report
Our new policy report explores the link between arthritis and many long-term conditions. With the number of people living with two or more long-term conditions (multimorbidity) growing, it’s important that we understand how people's needs can be met.
Arthritis is often found among people who live with other long-term conditions. For instance, by 65 years of age, almost five out of ten people with a heart, lung or mental health problem also have arthritis.
Over the last two years, we have examined issues around living well with arthritis and multimorbidity in depth. We held a round table, spoke to people with arthritis and other long-term conditions, healthcare professionals, and researchers, conducted a literature review and analysed surveys. All of this helped us to understand more about the nature and impact of living well with arthritis when combined with other long-term conditions.
We reached three key observations:
- Arthritis is very common and is often present where there are other long-term conditions.
- Arthritis ruins quality of life. The presence of any long-term condition is associated with a drop in quality of life, but when arthritis or back pain is present as one or more of the long-term conditions, the drop is greater.
- The pain and functional limitation of arthritis makes it harder to cope when living with multiple long-term conditions. Simple everyday tasks such as grasping small objects, standing or sitting can be more difficult with arthritis.
Jack, who is living with asthma, osteoarthritis, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, a colostomy bag as the result of surgery for colon cancer, an underactive thyroid, diabetes, cataracts, an enlarged prostate and problems with his gall bladder, feels that "it's the arthritis, the carpal tunnel and the bladder control…they're the things that really affect my quality of life."
The report sets out recommendations for change at a national and local level.
We'd like to see musculoskeletal conditions included as part of system-wide approach to addressing the needs of people with multiple long-term conditions. Changes we'd like to see include:
- Improved metrics and outcome tools.
- Better data collection and appropriate health promotion.
- Collaboration within the charity sector to jointly develop resources, programmes, research, and partnerships.
- Research funders should work with partners to ensure there is a flourishing research agenda for multimorbidity including musculoskeletal conditions.
- Improved assessment and segmentation of people with musculoskeletal and multimorbidity conditions in local planning documents.
- Ensure pain and functional limits are a part of care and support planning, with appropriate tools.
Response to the report
Tom Wright CBE, Group Chief Executive, Age UK and Chair of the Richmond Group, said: "People with long-term conditions are the main users of health and social care, accounting for about 70% of hospital bed days and 50% of GP appointments.
"Increasingly as we live longer we're more likely to develop more than one health condition and it's very welcome that Versus Arthritis is carefully considering how care for people needs to take account of these other health conditions alongside musculoskeletal conditions."
The Richmond Group, as a leading coalition of health and care charities, are collaborating to better understand and respond to the reality that many of our beneficiaries struggle with the impact of more than one condition on their lives.
For more information please read our Musculoskeletal conditions and multimorbidity report (PDF 8.2MB) or contact the policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack's story – living with multimorbidity
Jack, 65, from Lincolnshire, has no fewer than 11 long-term conditions. As well as managing asthma, osteoarthritis, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, a colostomy bag as a result of surgery for colon cancer, an underactive thyroid, diabetes, cataracts, an enlarged prostate and problems with his gall bladder, Jack has recently been diagnosed with cervical myelopathy (problems in his spine caused by osteoarthritis).
Jack’s health conditions have had a big impact on his life. He's given up many of his passions because of the functional change that multimorbidity, including arthritis, has brought to his life. One difficult change was his decision to stop breeding dogs and training horses, hobbies that were very important to him: "I used to do lots of active things that are now just impossible".
Instead, he's picked up new hobbies, fuelled by his love of knowledge and lifelong learning. "I'm nearly 70 chronologically, but mentally I'm 40". Jack's an avid reader, which he compliments with French lessons and classes at his local adult education centre. He's also active in his local branch of the University of the Third Age, taking a keen interest in their genealogy group.
However, managing multimorbidity impacts on all areas of Jack’s life. The plethora of medications Jack needs to take require careful management to minimise repeat trips to the pharmacy. Along with a time-consuming daily exercise regime, this means Jack’s life has lost its spontaneity. "I’ve got four pages of repeat prescriptions, of about 13 different medications, plus non-pharmacological items to help manage blood sugars and my colostomy.
"The trouble is they all get out of sync, so I'm in and out of the GPs ordering repeat prescriptions and picking stuff up from the pharmacy virtually every week."
Jack finds the need to attend multiple clinics for his different long-term conditions particularly stressful and exhausting. Recently, Jack had a clinical consultation in Sheffield (he drove himself the 2-hour journey there, although he sees a day where he'll no longer be able to drive), which required a follow up by x-ray. It was only when Jack highlighted the difficulties of returning for another appointment that arrangements were made for him to have the x-ray on the same day.
But too often such join up doesn’t occur, and after so many separate appointments, Jack is ‘wiped out’ which can mean him missing out on the activities he loves.
Coordinating to avoid compromises
Jack's already given up a great deal because of living with multimorbidity, including his beloved wolfhounds. But he believes that the lack of coordination from the health system, which currently means he has to make further compromises, could be avoided. His asks for the system are simple:
- That healthcare professionals communicate with each other and ensure important details are noted down clearly.
- That he could have a single touchpoint in the system, someone with an overview of all his conditions, that he could go to for help and advice.