New research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare highlights the impact of arthritis on health care spending and our health care system, with the disease now affecting more than 15 percent of Australians. Arthritis Victoria is particularly concerned by the findings that show Australians from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have a higher prevalence of arthritis.
'Disadvantaged Australians, in fact all people living with arthritis, need early access to treatments and health care services to help them manage the impact of this disease," said Natalie Savin, Arthritis Victoria CEO.
'The early diagnosis and management of Rheumatoid Arthritis presents an opportunity to alter the course of this degenerative disease. Enhancing access to services and providing for better coordination of care provided by different layers of our health system can improve treatment and outcomes for people living with arthritis.
'The report also finds that arthritis is a significant contributor to disability in Australia with one third of people living with the disease reporting activity restrictions. Our consumer research has shown that many people with arthritis-related disabilities have difficulty accessing Victorian disability support schemes.
'Arthritis Victoria is keen to work with the Victorian Government to look at its Disability Services Access Policy and Implementation Guide to remove the disadvantages faced by people with -episodic disability' brought on by arthritis.
'We also believe that Victorians living with arthritis, particularly those from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, would benefit from the creation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme to reduce the economic burden of arthritis-related disability by providing access to the support, therapy and equipment they need to fully participate in their communities.
'The report found that regional areas recorded the highest prevalence of arthritis. Our research shows there is limited access to rheumatology services in areas with higher prevalence rates. We are keen to work together with the State government to address these health inequalities.
'With arthritis being reported as the eighth most frequently managed problem by general practitioners, we would like to see improvements made to the coordination of care received by Victorians with arthritis. People with arthritis use a wide range of health services over their lifetime and are at higher risk of developing multiple chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
'The AIHW has also found that more than 97 percent of knee and hip replacements attributed to arthritis are on account of osteoarthritis. People living with arthritis face long waiting periods for assessment and completion of joint replacement surgery, leaving them with poor health-related quality of life and periods of psychological distress. We welcome steps taken by the Victorian Government to address these issues, yet would like to see further funding directed towards reducing the waitlist for osteoarthritis-related joint replacement surgery in line with clinically recommended timeframes.
'Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions are the most common chronic health conditions faced by Australians. We welcome the work of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and appreciate this work as an important step in raising awareness of the impact of these conditions in Australia."
Arthritis Victoria is a community-based health promotion organisation for people with arthritis, osteoporosis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Arthritis is Australia's major cause of disability and chronic pain and affects 18.6 percent of the Victorian population. More than 820,000 Victorians live with chronic pain and discomfort. Sixty two percent of people with arthritis are of working age, between 15 and 64 years. There are approximately 1,000 children in Victoria with juvenile arthritis. For more information on arthritis, osteoporosis and other musculoskeletal conditions, call the Arthritis Victoria Telephone Information Service (available 10am – 4pm Monday to Friday on 8531 8000 or toll free for country callers 1800 011 041).
For a range of resources and information on courses and events visit www.arthritisvic.org.au