Crisis looms over lack of arthritis services, expert warns

By: Alison Healy – Irish Times – Friday, August 05, 2005

Ageing population: A leading arthritis specialist has warned that a major crisis is looming because of our ageing population and the lack of services for people with arthritis.

Dr Douglas Veale, consultant rheumatologist at St Vincent’s Hospital, said there were already waiting lists of four years or more to see a rheumatologist in some areas.

With the number of over 65-year-olds expected to increase by up to 25 per cent in the next 20 years, the demand on arthritis services would spiral, he said.

This would be compounded by the increase in the number of sports people getting osteoarthritis.

GAA and rugby players were training harder and resting less between games so damaged joints were not getting time to heal, he said.

“There is already a crisis,” he said. “Very few GPs have experience of musculoskeletal health and we have the lowest number of rheumatologists in Europe. We have 25 rheumatologists for a population of four million. That’s worse than Croatia.”

His comments were backed by Arthritis Ireland, a support group for arthritis sufferers. John Church, Arthritis Ireland chief executive, said the problem was even worse than might be envisaged as all consultant rheumatologists had to spend about 50 per cent of their time on Accident & Emergency calls “thus diluting the resources even more”.

He said half of all patients who developed rheumatoid arthritis would develop work disability within 10 years of diagnosis if they did not receive proper patient care.

“They may end up losing their job thus drawing further on the State resources. The irony is that by continuing to ignore the under-resourcing of rheumatology services in Ireland, the country is facing an even bigger bill in the long term.”

Mr Church said the increasing incidence of obesity was another risk factor as more weight put more pressure on damaged joints.

Arthritis Ireland has called for the establishment of a full-time professor of rheumatology with research staff.

“Otherwise, we are just sticking our finger in the dyke. Without research, we are attacking the symptoms but not the cause.”

Mr Church said arthritis rarely made the headlines as people did not see it as being life-threatening in the way that cancer or heart disease was.

“But the long-term consequences extend beyond just joints and disability. It impacts on patients’ lives, family income and has huge socio-economic implications for the country. It’s a time bomb just waiting to go off,” he said.

According to Dr Veale, one in four people with osteoarthritis has never seen a doctor as they feel it is part of the ageing process. “It’s a big hidden problem.”

He was speaking at the launch of a new therapy to treat osteoarthritis and sports injuries. Synovial fluid replacement therapy involves a series of injections into the knee joint, giving pain relief for up to six months. One such product, Suplasyn, has now become available for medical card holders.

It is being promoted as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs and a way of reducing reliance on pain-relieving medication.

Dr Veale said the new treatment seemed to work most effectively for people with early stage arthritis, rather than those with long-term damage.

Irish Times

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