Patients with an inflammatory spine condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis need earlier diagnosis and better access to care, experts have told MPs.
“There are some centres of excellence for the treatment of AS in the UK,” said Jane Skerrett, Director of the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS). “But the number of these centres in the NHS is limited and too few patients receive optimum care as a result. It is time for this to change, particularly since we now have the knowledge and tools to do things better.”
Ms Skerrett was in Westminster for the launch of the NASS report “Looking Ahead”, which examined the problems faced by people with AS.
The progressive condition, which affects about 200,000 people in the UK, causes inflammation of the spinal joints and can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort. In a quarter of cases, the spine becomes deformed.
Symptoms may become apparent following enforced bed-rest, for example following a car accident, accelerating a previously existing mild condition, or if bones are fused together through injury, surgery or disease.
However, it takes eight years, on average, for a correct diagnosis to be made.
The NASS report argues that too often, doctors confuse the symptoms of AS with more common types of spinal pain and that greater use should be made
of MRIs and specialist blood tests in the diagnosis process. In addition, patients with suspected AS must be referred immediately to a rheumatologist.
The report also says that greater access is needed to appropriate expertise and therapies in order to slow down the progression of the disease and improve patients’ mobility. Recommendations include improving access to physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, and giving patients more information on new treatments.
Patients with back pain were urged to visit their GP, and not to be afraid to return if their symptoms do not improve. If AS is diagnosed early, patients can lead active lives, work normally and have a good quality of life.
One of the MPs who dropped into the Westminster session, Torbay’s Adrian Sanders, said that around 300 of his constituents are currently living with AS.
“I have no doubt that more can be done to improve the services that they are receiving. Ensuring access to the appropriate specialists and treatments would mean that more patients are helped to manage their condition.”