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Third of arthritis sufferers have not received care due to Covid-19

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A third of people living with arthritis in Northern Ireland have not received care to manage their crippling condition during Covid-19, research has found. (David Jones/PA)

A third of people living with arthritis in Northern Ireland have not received care to manage their crippling condition during Covid-19, research has found. (David Jones/PA)

A third of people living with arthritis in Northern Ireland have not received care to manage their crippling condition during Covid-19, research has found. (David Jones/PA)

A third of people living with arthritis in Northern Ireland have not received care to manage their crippling condition during Covid-19, research has found.

Almost half of patients have had their hospital appointments cancelled during the lockdown, while 56% of people with arthritis said they have been in so much pain they have been unable to complete basic tasks around their homes.

Many people with arthritis have been shielding during the pandemic as the medication they take is believed to put them at greater risk from the virus.

A survey by national charity Versus Arthritis has found that 51% of people with the debilitating condition have reported feeling lonely and isolated.

The statistics have been released as the charity warns of the urgent need to prioritise NHS recovery plans to support people with arthritis in Northern Ireland.

More than 487,000 people in Northern Ireland live with a musculoskeletal condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and back pain.

Even before Covid-19, Northern Ireland had by far the worst waiting times of any part of the UK, with people waiting years to access vital health services including physiotherapy, rheumatology and crucial joint replacement surgery.

Elizabeth McLucas (57) from Comber in Co Down has rheumatoid arthritis and was supposed to have a left hip replacement in July but is still waiting for a new date for the operation.

She said: "It's getting so bad that my doctor had to write to the hospital to warn them of my pain levels, although I've heard nothing from the hospital since.

"Last time I spoke to a doctor at the hospital he said they haven't resumed doing any surgery yet because of Covid-19, so all they can do is increase my painkillers.

"I'm like a zombie with them, though. I used to take Tramadol, but it caused me to have quite dark thoughts. I became very, very depressed, but it was all they could do to ease the pain.

"Now I'm just taking co-codamol, which barely takes the edge off. This has completely taken over my life. I can't sleep, I can't walk, and I can't work because of the pain. I can't control it anymore - it controls me. Thankfully I get a lot of support from my husband who is a carer for the NHS, but it means he never gets away from his work.

"My doctors and GPs have done their best, but the waiting lists in Northern Ireland are ridiculous. I need the surgery to get my life back."

Sara Graham, the Northern Ireland Director of Versus Arthritis, said the Assembly must take urgent steps to ensure people with arthritis are not left living in agony indefinitely.

"The health service has just about survived Covid-19 so far, but at the expense of services that many relied upon to sustain their quality of life," she said.

"It's imperative that recovery plans include arthritis treatments, including joint replacement surgery, so this crisis does not accelerate further. Governments must prioritise bringing down waiting lists, restarting planned joint replacement surgery and ensuring people are given clear information on what to expect as well as support to manage their pain."

Health bosses here are currently putting in place plans to rebuild NHS services following the first Covid-19 surge.

However, the resumption of services is being hindered by the ongoing threat posed by Covid-19, with the most urgent patients being seen first.

Belfast Telegraph