One month on from the launch of our joint report with the Scottish Society for Rheumatology, Rheumatology in Scotland: The State of Play, Devolved Nations Liaison Officer Lauren Bennie reflects on the work we are doing with our members and stakeholders to advance Scotland’s health service to provide timely and effective treatment for your patients, and asks what’s next for rheumatology in Scotland.

Following the launch of our updated State of Play Scotland report in early November, I presented our findings and recommendations to more than 350 clinicians, stakeholders and politicians at SSR’s autumn conference, and at the Scottish Parliament.

At Holyrood, we spoke with four Members of the Scottish Parliament at the Cross Party Group (CPG) on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions. We were able to underline to them the significant impact that the average 11-week waiting time for an initial rheumatology appointment can have on patients. The convener of the CPG, Brian Whittle MSP, had worked with us during the development of the report, and subsequently took the opportunity to highlight our findings at First Minister’s Question Time. As a follow up to Nicola Sturgeon’s response, we and SSR have jointly written to the First Minister and the Health Secretary, requesting a meeting to discuss our recommendations and how we can work with the Scottish Government to implement them.

With the report published, we are now looking at how we can help deliver the key recommendations – and collaboration will be essential. Over the coming months, we will need to work with stakeholders including the Scottish Government, Health Improvement Scotland, the Scottish Public Health Network and NHS Education for Scotland, in order to drive home the need to act. We must make sure that each part of the health system fully recognises the impact that rheumatic conditions have within Scotland – work-related musculoskeletal disorders, for example, accounted for 34% of all days lost due to work related ill-health in Scotland. 

So how can we make sure that rheumatology services are at the forefront when decisions are being taken about the future of healthcare in Scotland? Firstly, we must continue to highlight our key findings: that 800,000 people are living with chronic pain because of MSK conditions, that almost half of all work-related illness in Scotland are rheumatic in nature, and that back and neck pain consistently rank among the top 10 reasons for visits to a doctor. 

Then we need to address turning our report’s key recommendations into tangible outcomes. We want to ensure, for example, that our members are supported in adopting best practice wherever possible – with projects such as the award-winning nurse specialist training programme at Stobhill Hospital providing a great example of the innovation that our members are already bringing forward.

Another prime focus for meaningful change is the current management of early rheumatoid arthritis guideline, which was published all the way back in 2011 – and that is now four years passed the planned revision date. Moving forward, we will want to talk with the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, Health Improvement Scotland and the Scottish and British Societies for Rheumatology to seek a way of addressing this. With our members’ support, we hope to be able to spur this process into action, beginning with gathering the new evidence needed to revise the guideline.

There are, of course, other important areas – working with the Scottish Government to improve recruitment of new people into the specialty, ensuring that treatment for rare diseases and access to care in rural areas are given greater attention, and ensuring that care for patients’ mental wellbeing is always provided alongside their treatment for their physical health. We’ll be working with our members and with the Scottish Society over the coming months to find the best approach to tackling these issues, and we would welcome your thoughts.

In a written response to the First Minister Question, the Scottish Government highlighted that it is investing £850million to improve waiting times in Scotland as part of its target to ensure that, by 2021, 95% of people awaiting outpatient treatment are seen within 12 weeks. The wait for that target to be met continues, but our work on implementing our State of Play recommendations is now beginning in earnest.