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To mark the last day of National Bone and Joint Week (12 – 20 October), Sue Brown, CEO of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA) considers the impact of COVID-19 on musculoskeletal services and the subsequent importance of working with services and experts including those by experience to enable the best musculoskeletal health possible during these uncertain times.
This week is Bone and Joint Week (12 – 20 October). It is a time met with anxieties for many healthcare professionals and people with MSK conditions. During the outbreak of COVID-19, MSK services were scaled back to keep people safe and have been slowly opening back up. However, we need to consider the way in which waiting in pain impacts people’s physical and mental health and ability to work. Delays in accessing treatment such as joint replacement surgery can have long term serious impacts on health.
We all hope that a second wave of COVID-19 doesn’t impact services to the extent they did in spring. We all know this might be unavoidable. There has already been a lot of learning about what helps stretched MSK services and now it is vital that we use these learnings to support patients going forward:
Innovation in services
Many MSK services innovated and adapted to lockdown. The best examples of these are now being published on the NHS Change Challenge website including information about how they were done and the benefits.
Use patient organisations
Many of ARMA’s patient member organisations were deluged with queries during lockdown and despite reducing income they stepped up magnificently. They are not a replacement for NHS services, they provide vital additional support including advice, information, peer support, online groups and networks. Make sure patients know this resource exists.
Listen to patients
The MSK Lived Experience Group has collated intelligence from a range of sources to find out the impact on people living with MSK conditions and produced a report of the themes that emerged. National Voices has also produced a report: What We Need Now, What matters to people for health and care, during COVID-19 and beyond which includes recommendations for system leaders and those designing and delivering services.
Communication, communication, communication
The thing people want most is to know what is happening. They want to know how long they might be waiting, what they can do while they wait, and they want to be reassured that they are not forgotten. If people are offered treatment, they also need to have the measures that will be taken to keep them safe explained. It’s easy to forget when you are surrounded by all the safety measures that the public are unaware of this and very frightened of contracting the virus in healthcare settings.
People who are waiting can do things to support themselves, and there are resources that can help. This page signposts people to online resources to help them to help themselves. People are worried and stressed. It’s hard to keep going, so provide encouragement, support and links to appropriate patient organisations.
The vital importance of MSK services must be recognised. MSK health is what keeps us mobile, active and independent. It’s what helps us maintain our general health. Poor MSK health has a huge impact on the NHS and the economy. Now more than ever we need our population in the best possible MSK health.