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Address specialist shortages to avoid disability associated with rheumatoid arthritis

Posted on: 29/05/2013

Specialist shortages are creating unacceptable delays in initiating the early treatment for people with rheumatoid arthritis that is critical to avoid permanent joint deformity and disability, according to Arthritis Australia.

“We can’t reverse the joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis, but with the treatments we have now, we have a good chance of preventing it if we start treatment within 3-6 months of symptom onset,” said Professor Patrick McNeil, President of Arthritis Australia, responding to a report on the condition released by the AIHW today.

“Despite this, we know that people are waiting up to two years to start treatment in some parts of Australia, especially in rural Queensland, because they can’t get in to see a rheumatologist,” he said.

“Consequently they are facing permanent disability that could have been avoided,” Professor McNeil said. “This is just inexcusable.”

“There is also a huge cost to society because rheumatoid arthritis is most commonly diagnosed in people in their 40’s and 50’s, the prime of their working lives, but without effective early treatment, many have to withdraw from the workforce due to the pain and disability caused by the condition.

“We need immediate government action to address critical specialist shortages in Queensland and in rural areas and we also need to up-skill GPs so that they recognise the early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and understand how critical it is to get an early referral for specialist treatment,” Professor McNeil said.

“People who are experiencing painful, swollen and tender joints should also ensure that they consult a health professional as soon as possible.”

Rheumatoid arthritis is a severe autoimmune form of arthritis that causes very painful swelling and stiffness of the joints and affects 428,000 Australians. The disease can vary significantly in presentation and course, making diagnosis and treatment a complex and dynamic process requiring specialist care.


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