The study is being funded by a five-year grant of more than £788,000 from the Arthritis Research Campaign.
Although osteoarthritis affects millions of older people in the UK, and is a major source of pain and disability, it is not considered a health priority by the NHS.
A recent survey showed that only 29 per cent of people with osteoarthritis received appropriate care from health services, compared to 83 per cent of patients with heart disease.
Dr George Peat, senior lecturer in clinical epidemiology at the Arthritis Research Campaign National Primary Care Centre at Keele, who is leading the project said: “Our recent research has shown that almost half of people registered with GPs in North Staffordshire who have severe joint pain don’t go to their GP in the course of a year, possibly because they think their doctor will not be able to do anything about it.
“Patients will talk to their GP about their diabetes or their high blood pressure, but not their osteoarthritis or joint pain, and we want to find out what is stopping them from raising these problems with their doctor – or what is stopping the GP from asking about them.”
Dr Peat said because osteoarthritis was not perceived as life-threatening and because there was no existing framework for the management of osteoarthritis within the NHS, osteoarthritis and joint pain were being pushed down the health agenda.
The multi-disciplinary Keele team of more than 20 researchers - including research nurses, GPs, epidemiologists, rheumatologists, physiotherapists and scientists - plan to build up a picture of the long-term “natural history” of joint pain and osteoarthritis, and also patients’ experiences in general practice.
With unique access to patients’ health care records, they will collect information from consultations of an existing cohort of more than 1,400 people over the age of 50 with knee pain and hand pain attending GP practices in North Staffordshire over six years. They will also set up a new group of 500 people over the age of 50 with foot problems and follow their experiences with their GPs over a three year period.
Specially trained physiotherapists and occupational therapists will carry out examinations of patients at clinics at the Haywood Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent. DNA samples will be taken, x-ray data collected, and patients will also be asked to complete questionnaires as part of the study.
Dr Peat said the large numbers of people suffering from osteoarthritis and joint pain deserved better basic primary care, and should be able to access it. “People spend many years living with joint pain, and it’s surprising how little long-term research has been done,” he added. “We need a broader approach that pays direct attention to the symptoms and difficulties that people experience, and the impact it has on their lives. We hope that our research will go some way to providing that.”
The Arthritis Research Campaign recently awarded £2.5m to support its new National Primary Care Centre at Keele University, which is due to be officially opened in December. The aim is to raise the profile of primary care and to carry out research which will lead to more effective treatment and management of osteoarthritis and common musculoskeletal conditions.
Chris Stone | alfa
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