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BSR members are deeply concerned about the current crisis in the rheumatology workforce. This piece explores BSR’s role in influencing policy and how you can help the specialty be heard by getting involved in public affairs activities.

Part of our mission is to influence the healthcare agenda, campaigning on the issues that matter most to our members, through including speaking at national events, meeting with parliamentarians and civil servants, responding to consultations and inquiries, and writing blogs. Our External Affairs team, working with members, identify and support opportunities to share evidence and the experiences of our members to better inform policy decision-making.

Recently, BSR Vice President and occupational therapist Yeliz Prior told MPs that rheumatology teams are being prevented from delivering NICE standards because of the current crisis. Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on AxSpA (May 2022), she talked through findings from our Rheumatology workforce: a crisis in numbers report, explaining the impact vacancies and staff shortages across the multidisciplinary team (MDT) are having on patient care and safety.

Yeliz asked MPs to question how integrated care systems are planning to tackle the workforce gaps and extend access to vital local services like physiotherapy and occupational therapy. She added that the forthcoming Health Education England (HEE) workforce strategy must commit to a clear plan for increasing the rheumatology workforce. She also told attendees that more needed to be done to increase exposure to rheumatology in the undergraduate and postgraduate curricula through teaching modules and clinic placement opportunities for all members of the MDT.

APPGs are groups of parliamentarians with a shared interest in a particular topic, who work across political lines to build a political consensus and awareness. Speaking alongside Yeliz was Amanda Hensman-Crook from Health Education England (HEE), and Andy Bennett, Best MSK Lead from NHS England (NHSE). Amanda updated the Group on HEE’s work programme to upskill primary care staff in musculoskeletal (MSK) and rheumatology. She has also shared plans to look at advanced skills and competencies in secondary care. Andy Bennett updated on the MSK Best Health Programme, agreeing that the workforce was one of the biggest challenges in improving MSK and rheumatology care.

NASS Chief Executive Dale Webb, who chaired the meeting, shared the APPG’s plans to meet with the ministerial team, stating that workforce would be a key issue to discuss.

After the APPG, Yeliz said: "I was delighted to be given the opportunity to talk through BSR’s evidence on workforce issues in rheumatology and highlight the urgent need for action to address the crisis. It’s vital that there's BSR representation at these events to highlight workforce challenges for health professionals, so politicians are cognisant of our experiences at the front line, and understand the reasons behind the growing demand to increase our workforce to meet patients’ needs. This will hopefully help them to better support these improvements with a clear plan for developing the rheumatology workforce as a whole.”

If you'd like to get more involved in our influencing activities at a UK, nation or local level or want to share your experience of shaping policy please contact policy@rheumatology.org.uk.

Learn more about the APPG