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08-08-2011 | General practice | Article

RA patients face assessment delay



People with suspected rheumatoid arthritis (RA) face "unacceptably long" delays for specialist assessment, say researchers writing in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Their study of eight European countries found that the average delay from symptom onset to specialist assessment was 24 weeks, with the UK faring slightly better, at 21 weeks.

"Across Europe, delays in the assessment of patients with RA by rheumatologists are unacceptably long," write Karim Raza (University of Birmingham, UK) and co-authors.

"As highlighted in a recent report from the UK National Audit Office, tackling this should represent a priority for strategies to improve patient outcomes."

Raza's group collected data on 482 patients with RA assessed at 10 centres in Europe. They found considerable between-centre variation in the time to rheumatologist assessment, with between 8% and 42% of patients seen within 12 weeks.

In Birmingham, 9% of patients were assessed by a rheumatologist within 12 weeks of symptom onset.

There was also variation in the factors contributing to the waiting time. At some centres (Birmingham, Heraklion) patient delay was a key component while in others (Berlin, Vienna) patients presented very quickly.

In most centres, delay on the part of the GP was an important contributor to overall delay; in seven of the 10 centres, the median value for this delay was at least 8 weeks.

The authors conclude: "Intervention is required to ensure that more patients are assessed within the window during which they are most likely to respond to treatment - that is, the first 3 months."

GP News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Joanna Lyford