L-to R SSR President Dr Anne McEntegart and our President Dr Liz Price meet at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh ahead of ministerial meeting with Minister Joe FitzPatrick MSP.

In March, Presidents of both the British Society for Rheumatology and the Scottish Society for Rheumatology, Dr Price and Dr McEntegart, met on the Scottish parliamentary estate at Holyrood in Edinburgh to lead our meeting with Health Minister

Joe FitzPatrick MSP in response to correspondence from BSR and SSR Presidents to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP in December.

Following the launch of our second joint Rheumatology in Scotland State of Play report in November 2018, we, along with SSR, are together building on the momentum of the parliamentary response to our report to open up dialogue with elected members in Scotland. Our key objectives are to ensure Scotland’s health service is able to provide timely and effective treatment for patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal disorders whilst supporting the rheumatology multidisciplinary team delivering this care.

In December our Devolved Nations Liaison Officer Lauren Bennie highlighted in Rheumatology in Scotland: One Month On the need to turn our joint report’s key recommendations into tangible outcomes. For example, that our members are supported in adopting best practise wherever possible, to improve recruitment of new people into the speciality, giving greater attention to access to care in rural areas and ensuring that care for patients’ mental wellbeing is always provided alongside treatment for their physical health.

On Wednesday 06 March 2019, our discussions with the Minister and his team focused on three key areas:

  1. Workforce, recruitment and training

  2. Biosimilar switch over, and invest-to-save

  3. Psychological support and mental health

As a result of positive discussions, we will be stepping up our parliamentary activities in Scotland by opening these, now agreed, channels of dialogue between the Minister’s officials in Edinburgh and our colleagues to support the ministerial team’s understanding of effective prescribing and biologic switchovers. We’ll be informing the team of Scottish invest-to-save incentives like the commitment from NHS Borders to reinvest 20% of the realised savings from biosimilar etanercept on a recurring basis into the rheumatology service. In NHS Borders, this has allowed for expansion of specialist nurse posts and secretarial support.

On workforce and training, Minister FitzPatrick clearly understood that while consultant rheumatology numbers have improved since 2012, the vacancy rates in Scotland are expected to worsen with limited training posts available to address the recruitment gap alongside professionals seeking more flexible working patterns and part-time roles and the known upcoming retirements in Scotland’s consultant rheumatology workforce. The Minister asked several pertinent questions on how to address this including how to promote rheumatology as a career, how to retain professionals in the rheumatology speciality, how to encourage local health boards to invest and how to support and promote the Associate Rheumatology Nurse Specialist Training Programme in all NHS Trusts.

SSR President, Dr Anne McEntegart said: “I have welcomed the opportunity to highlight to the Minister the current challenges and potential opportunities facing rheumatology in Scotland. Minister FitzPatrick fully understood the benefits of Stobhill Hospital’s Associate Rheumatology Nurse Specialist Training Programme and how it can help to address some of the workforce and training issues we face in our rheumatology multidisciplinary teams.”

In addition to supporting the agreed ministerial actions, we will be working with our members and with the Scottish Society for Rheumatology over the coming weeks and months to expand these discussions and find the best approach to tackling these issues. We would welcome your feedback and thoughts.

As a speciality, we must look at our how we match our colleagues in other specialities to lobby our devolved nation Ministers to ensure the needs of the rheumatology speciality are being raised in the appropriate ministerial circles. The Scottish Parliament MSK reception on 15 May 2019 provides both us and SSR with an opportunity to enhance our profile and widen our engagement in order to demonstrate the best of our speciality. Keep an eye out for our monthly devolved nations segment in our member e-newsletter which will provide regular updates on our progress.