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Arthritis should be seen as a public health priority, charity says

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Arthritis Research UK is calling for arthritis to be recognised as a public health priority and a significant problem facing the UK.

This week, the charity launched a nationwide campaign highlighting how arthritis impacts everyone, either directly or indirectly.

Across the UK there are more than 10 million people living with arthritis and the condition can cause high levels of daily pain and fatigue. It also has an impact on the economy because of healthcare costs and people taking time off work.

Working days lost due to osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are predicted to increase from 25.1 million today to 25.9 million by 2030, equating to an annual £3.43bn productivity hit to the economy. By 2050 these figures will increase to 27.2 million working days and an annual cost of £4.74bn.

Meanwhile, the estimated cost to the NHS and the wider healthcare system currently stands at £10.2bn. According to Arthritis Research UK, an estimated £118.6bn will be spent on the condition over the course of the next decade.

One in six people in the UK have OA and/or RA, and this is predicted to rise to one in five by 2050. More than three quarters (76%) of people with arthritis say that their family and social lives are compromised by the condition, and over half (53%) feel they are a nuisance to their families.

Through the campaign, the charity is hoping to improve society’s understanding of arthritis and its impact. Research shows that only four in ten (42%) people see the condition as a major public health issue. And, although arthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability in the UK, nearly two thirds (63%) are not aware of the scale of its physical impact.

A letter in support of the campaign has been published in The Times, signed by 16 notable people, including BBC journalist and broadcaster Julian Worricker, actress Sally Hawkins, Caroline Lucas MP, Paralympic athlete Pamela Relph and Professor Luke O’Neill from Trinity College, Dublin.

The letter says that arthritis-related conditions cause over 30 million sick days every year, and a quarter of people with the condition give up work or retire early.

It continues: “New research shows that rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, two of the most common types of arthritis, currently cost the economy £2.6bn annually, a figure which is set to rise to £4.7bn by 2050.

“Despite this, the impact of arthritis is invisible — the condition is dismissed as simple aches and pains or even an inevitable and acceptable part of getting older.

“If we don’t change how arthritis is currently perceived and acknowledge its impact, we will continue to lose out.

“We are calling for arthritis to be recognised for what it is — a public health priority and a significant problem facing the UK, alongside, for example, obesity. Only then can we create the change that is needed in our communities, workplaces and people’s lives to enable us to overcome a problem which is, ultimately, affecting us all.”