This week I showed support for patients with the chronic autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by visiting a Scottish Parliament exhibition hosted by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) and NHS Fife.
RA is a chronic, systemic autoimmune disease which can cause long term disability. NRAS estimates that it affects nearly 60,000 people in Scotland – equivalent to around 800 per Scottish Parliament constituency – and poses a significant economic burden on the Scottish economy.
The exhibition titled ‘Rheumatoid arthritis: raising awareness and responding effectively’ highlighted the need for greater public awareness of RA and the twofold risk of developing the disease caused by heavy smoking.
I was met by NRAS Ambassadors, including John Paton and clinicians from NHS Fife’s Rheumatic Diseases Unit. They discussed what could be done to improve referral and diagnosis rates and raise awareness of the link between RA and smoking. We discussed pioneering and international recognised work in this field that NHS Fife continues to undertake.
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment within 12 weeks of symptom onset, are central to improving long term outcomes for patients and reducing the likelihood of work disability. Despite this, a report by the Scottish Public Health Network, published in 2012, found that the average time from symptom onset to seeing a specialist in Scotland was 24 weeks. Delays were found to occur before people sought help from their GP and before GPs made a referral to a specialist.
Rheumatoid arthritis & NHS Fife facts:
- Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease affecting 690,000 adults in the UK and nearly 60,000 in Scotland. The disease can affect people of any age, from 16 years of age upwards.
- Rheumatoid arthritis costs the Scottish NHS approximately £58 million per year and NRAS estimates that the total cost of RA to the Scottish economy is £666 million per year.
- NRAS’s mission is to ‘work for a better life for people living with rheumatoid arthritis’. We do this by providing information, education, support and advocacy; raising public and government awareness of RA; campaigning for equity of access to best treatment and care; and facilitating the networking of people with RA and encouraging self-help.
- NHS Fife provides healthcare to the 370,000 residents of Fife and employs around 8,500 staff. As a large rural area with varied geography and several centres of population, there are particular challenges to meet the health needs of the people of Fife.
- Alongside the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy and the Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline, NHS Fife has 8 community hospitals spread throughout the Kingdom.