Improved treatment for patients presenting with rheumatoid and early inflammatory arthritis

18 July 2014

The quality of care received by people with early inflammatory and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will improve through a national clinical audit that utilises smart new technology developed by Northgate Public Services and the British Society for Rheumatology in partnership. The three year audit was commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP).

This audit will highlight the variability in care standards across RA units nationally, as described in the National Audit Office report on RA in 2009. The audit will enable a patient’s actual care to be compared with best practice, as defined in NICE guidelines. 

The programme, which went live recently, assesses patient care against NICE clinical guidelines and quality standards for rheumatoid arthritis (CG79 and QS33). Its aim is to drive improvements in management of rheumatoid arthritis and particularly to support the many units that have struggled to provide timely and intensive intervention.

The audit will run continuously over the three years of the contract, covering a three month data collection period for each registered patient. It will recruit new patients aged 16 and over who show early inflammatory arthritis, and who have been seen in rheumatology outpatients, whether referred by a GP or other consultant.

The system is hosted by Northgate from its secure data centre and is made available to specialist RA care units across England and Wales through a browser via the N3 NHS network. Within the audit, BSR is providing professional support, clinical service management to the end user. The MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, is providing statistical and epidemiological expertise on data analysis.

“This exciting new tool will, for the first time, ensure the provision of consistent best practice in rheumatoid arthritis care across the country in line with the latest NICE guidelines,” said Ian Blackhurst, Northgate’s Executive Director, Solutions.

Prof. Simon Bowman, President of the British Society for Rheumatology (BSR), commented: “BSR represents the clinicians who provide rheumatology services to people suffering from these potentially disabling and life-threatening conditions, which affect every aspect of their lives. We are pleased to be involved in this important project, in line with the government’s drive to promote clinical leadership in health. It provides an important opportunity to prevent avoidable disability and joint damage by ensuring that early diagnosis and treatment are improved for patients.”

The British Society for Rheumatology’s Simple Tasks campaign states that there are approximately 20,000 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis in the UK every year and around three-quarters of people diagnosed with RA are of working age.