Tom Brake MP backs calls for positive action to help people living with Rheumatoid Arthritis to stay in work

October 20, 2008 2:00 PM

Tom with Lynne Love, Director of Operations at the National Rheumatoid Arthritis SocietyOn Wednesday Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington backed calls from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) for positive action from policy makers to support people living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and help them to stay in work.

Mr Brake attended a special drop-in event in parliament - Think Positive - organised by NRAS to commemorate World Arthritis Day.

The 'Think Positive' event highlights how positive thinking plays a crucial role for many people living with RA helping them cope and self manage with what is a chronic, painful and disabling disease.

However, RA is a frequently misunderstood disease and Mr Brake and the NRAS are calling for 'positive action' from policy makers to address many of the issues around access to treatment and work faced by the 400,000 people living with the condition in the UK. By having a better understanding of this condition and showing their commitment to supporting patients, policy-makers can help people with RA to think positive and keep positive.

An NRAS survey of over 700 people living with RA in the UK revealed that almost a third of them had to give up work early because of their disease and a massive 86% of people with RA had either already experienced or anticipated experiencing barriers to remaining in employment due to RA. Previous surveys have shown that people feel less depressed about their RA if they can stay in work. With only half of respondents saying that they had been offered some level of support to remain in employment and one fifth of respondents finding their employer unhelpful to their efforts to stay working, more needs to be done to support people with RA in the workplace effectively.

Ensuring that all RA patients can get access to the right support, effective treatments and multi-disciplinary care is crucial in supporting people to stay in work. Access to sequential anti-TNF therapy is currently under threat from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) which plans to restrict the use of these drugs. Earlier this year, NICE also turned down abatacept for people with RA. If it is not reversed on appeal, NICE's latest decision will have an important negative impact on RA patients who have already gained significant benefits from use of these treatments.

NRAS has been campaigning for some time for NICE to consider wider societal and work-related disability costs in their calculations of cost effectiveness. The arguments are compelling:

• The total UK costs associated with RA, including indirect costs and work related disability, are estimated to be approximately £3.8 - £4.75 billion per year.

• £2.148 billion was paid to people who were claiming incapacity benefit because of arthritis and related conditions, according to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions in 2001.

• 9.4 million working days were lost in the UK because of RA in 1999-2000.

Ailsa Bosworth, Chief Executive of NRAS comments:

"With a Government a target of 80% of working age citizens to be in employment by 2010, providing access to the right treatment and multi-disciplinary rheumatology services will help many people with RA to face the challenges of living and working with the condition. We appreciate the support of Tom Brake in raising awareness of these important issues."

Tom Brake comments:

"Long term conditions like rheumatoid arthritis should not lead automatically to people losing their jobs. We must do all we can to help sufferers to remain in work, stay independent and continue to make a contribution to their family and society.

"Any initiatives designed to raise awareness of RA and encourage positive action by policy makers and employers to help people living with this condition to stay in work should be widely supported."

About Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is a chronic systemic disease affecting primarily the joints but it can also affect other organs. It is an incredibly painful disease that can cause severe disability. Uncontrolled, the condition can shorten life expectancy from around 6-10 years and can have a major impact on a person's life. Forty two per cent of RA patients are registered disabled within 3 years and four fifths of patients are moderately to severely disabled within 20 years of diagnosis.

RA affects approximately 3 times more women than men and onset is often between 40- 60 years of age. There are as many as 12,000 children under 16 living with the juvenile form of the disease.

For more information about NRAS and their work call: 0845 458 3969 or visit: www.rheumatoid.org.uk

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