Rheumatologists are being encouraged to contribute their opinions on a draft National Strategic Action Plan for Arthritis currently out for consultation.
The wide-ranging draft document, auspiced by Arthritis Australia and shaped by a multidisciplinary steering committee, is underpinned by a major literature review and a stocktake of existing programs across the country.
Steering committee chair Professor Susanna Proudman, from the University of Adelaide, told the limbic the action plan was part context and part ‘blue sky’ but also contained practical, fundable suggestions.
“As a board, we have discussed what we think are the priorities but ultimately it will come down to the feedback from all the various stakeholders.”
The plan recommends implementing existing national strategies such as obesity prevention and in the near future, the outcomes of the draft osteoarthritis strategy reported in the limbic recently.
“Right from the outset, it was recognised that there was no point in reinventing the wheel and have two groups working against each other, so a lot of the strategies came straight out of the osteoarthritis action plan.”
The plan has a strong focus on education and new models of care.
“Education appears all through this document – from the patients embarking on this journey for the first time with a new diagnosis and throughout their disease course, but also various other stakeholders who may need upskilling, for example nurses and other health professionals who have been trained to look after people with arthritis.”
“We’ve had to be specialty agnostic. There are people out there who can be trained to manage people with musculoskeletal problems which, let’s face it, is actually a large proportion of us on and off in our lives.”
“And some of the musculoskeletal strategies are simple lifestyle strategies in terms of prevention so upskilling other people in the exercise sector are going be critical in terms of keeping people exercising but also preventing injuries in those who over-exercise or don’t exercise appropriately.”
“If you don’t train the people in the front line, for example personal trainers, how to help people with arthritis or prevent the injury that might lead to arthritis, then we are not getting the most out of people’s desire to prevent weight gain and the things that can contribute to arthritis later down the track.”
She said the evidence-based COACH program which has been found to be useful in areas such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes might also be adapted to helping patients with arthritis manage their disease.
Professor Proudman said rheumatology workforce issues also needed to be addressed across the country.
“And while the existing rheumatology workforce, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia, has done their best to improve outreach services for people in rural and regional areas, there has been an issue with sheer numbers.”
“There have not been enough rheumatologists per capita in those states compared to some of the other states and the only way you get more rheumatologists, apart from importing them and that has certainly happened, is with local training which is state funded.”
She said the complete lack of training positions in paediatric rheumatology was another area of need to be rectified.