Musculoskeletal disorders now the most costly diseases in Australia

Musculoskeletal disorders are now responsible for the highest non-fatal disease burden in Australia and also the highest costs to the health system, a new report shows.

Conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis and RA account for 25% of the non-fatal disease burden, ahead of mental & substance use disorders (24%) and respiratory diseases (10%), according to new data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The burden of musculoskeletal disease is greatest in older Australians, accounting for one third of the non-fatal disease burden in people aged over 50.

Musculoskeletal disorders also have the highest healthcare expenditure, costing $12.5 billion (or 10.7% of allocated expenditure) in Australia. This puts musculosketal condition costs ahead of cardiovascular diseases ($10.4 billion), injuries ($8.9 billion) and mental and substance use disorders ($8.9 billion).In a statement, Arthritis Australia noted that the cost of managing musculoskeletal conditions has more than doubled in a decade, exceeding the costs of cancer, cardiovascular disease and mental health conditions.

“We simply cannot continue to ignore the impact of conditions like arthritis and back pain,” said Arthritis Australia CEO, Mr Andrew Mills.

“For too long musculoskeletal conditions have been trivialised and treated as the ‘poor cousins’ when it comes to investment in better programs and research, but this has to change unless we want to see the cost of managing these conditions become completely unsustainable in future.”

Mr Mills highlighted that government investment in research for arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions through the NHMRC was just $17m in 2017.

“This is just a fraction of the research investment in other disease groups and is completely out of proportion to the cost and burden of musculoskeletal conditions,” he said.

As well as the high financial cost, there was a substantial personal burden of living with musculoskeltal conditions, Mr Mills said, noting that musculoskeletal conditions were the leading cause by far of disability and early retirement due to ill-health in Australia.

“The government has allocated $4 million towards the implementation of the Action Plan, which is very welcome, but much more needs to be done, at both the national and the state and territory level,  and soon,” he said.

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