New research from Keele University has found that the proportion of adults in England diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis has increased by at least 40% between 2004 to 2020.
The term inflammatory arthritis covers several conditions that cause joint pain and swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and axial spondylarthritis are all examples of the condition. These conditions cause long-term pain and disability and present a high financial burden for the UK healthcare system. It has been established that the earlier inflammatory arthritis is treated, the better the outcomes are.
Dr Ian Scott led researchers from Keele University’s school of medicine and the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in a study to better understand the condition. The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and was published in The Lancet.
The study examined the proportion of adults in England with a diagnosis of one of the three inflammatory arthritis conditions in each year from 2004 to 2020.
Findings can help NHS ease inflammatory arthritis burden
The researchers hope their findings will support NHS services in delivering early and appropriate specialist treatment for patients with inflammatory arthritis. The research team emphasised the importance of understanding how many people in England suffered from these conditions.
The researchers decided to examine data from a large GP database called the Clinical Practice Research Datalink Aurum, which includes information from over 1,400 GP practices across England. They specifically looked at data from 2004 to 2020, to understand how the prevalence of inflammatory arthritis diagnoses changed over that period.
Statistics highlight the need for early treatment
The data uncovered that the proportion of adults in England with a diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis increased by around 40% over the 16-year period. This means that in 2020 over 1% of adults and over 2.5% of people aged 65 or over in England had a diagnosis in their GP records of some form of the condition.
“Our findings have significant implications for the NHS in England. Many studies have shown that the earlier people with inflammatory arthritis receive specialist treatment the better they do, and it is very important that people with new onset inflammatory arthritis or suffering a flare of their arthritis are seen quickly. Organising NHS services to enable this is vital,” said Dr Scott, lead author of the study.
“Our results show that these conditions are more common in people aged over 65 years. This highlights the need to consider older people when planning arthritis NHS services. We need to particularly make sure that the widespread move to online healthcare does not adversely affect older people with arthritis, as other studies have shown they are less likely to use the internet and have the essential digital skills to access it independently,” concluded Dr Scott.