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It’s not just the elephant in the room – it’s a herd of elephants on the rampage. Osteoarthritis is a severe health issue that is only going to get worse. New Zealand needs to be much more proactive in acknowledging the seriousness of this debilitating condition.

“By 2040 as even Generation X begins to feel the impact of osteoarthritis there will be over 600,000 people with osteoarthritis in New Zealand- up from 406,000 in 2018 – a large increase due to the ageing of our population,” says Arthritis New Zealand chief executive Mr Philip Kearney.

In an article published by the NZMA in 2017, healthcare expenditure on osteoarthritis was described as unsustainable, and management was fragmented and episodic… with substantial regional inequity.*

“Unfortunately, there is a common perception that joint replacement is an inevitable outcome of osteoarthritis. We have clients tell us they were told to go back to their GP when they are in so much pain they can no longer walk,” noted Mr Kearney.

“This ageing population requires much better care of osteoarthritis and failure to do so will be seen as open neglect of them”.

“We know that arthritis affects pain, mood, sleep, fatigue and other limitations on daily life, including mobility. Social isolation, depression and anxiety are associated with chronic pain which is common for those with moderate to severe osteoarthritis. In Australia arthritis is the second most common reason for people aged between 45 and 64 years of age leaving the workforce due to ill health” continued Mr Kearney.

Concern at such management of osteoarthritis has led Arthritis New Zealand to invite Professor David Hunter, a world expert in osteoarthritis and a trailblazer in its management to visit New Zealand. Professor Hunter was a key advisor in the development of the New South Wales Managing Osteoarthritis Chronic Care programme – a programme which saw a reduction in surgical waitlists for joint replacement.

Such a result was achieved by providing access to clinical staff and health care services to support self-management through the development of individual plans for long term behaviour change, such as exercise programmes and weight reduction. This programme has significant implications for how the treatment of osteoarthritis in New Zealand can be significantly improved.

“We have to stop burying our heads in the sand and recognise that osteoarthritis is a significant health concern and requires a national plan and management. Professor Hunter’s visit will help this process,” concluded Mr Kearney.

*An Osteoarthritis model of care should be a national priority for New Zealand- J Baldwin, A Briggs, W Bagg, P Larmer- MZMJ Dec 2017

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