Objectives. Our aim was to conduct a national audit assessing the impact and experience of early management of inflammatory arthritis by English and Welsh rheumatology units. The audit enables rheumatology services to measure for the first time their performance, patient outcomes and experience, benchmarked to regional and national comparators.
Methods. All individuals >16 years of age presenting to English and Welsh rheumatology services with suspected new-onset inflammatory arthritis were included in the audit. Clinician- and patient-derived outcome and patient-reported experience measures were collected.
Results. Data are presented for the 6354 patients recruited from 1 February 2014 to 31 January 2015. Ninety-seven per cent of English and Welsh trusts participated. At the first specialist assessment, the 28-joint DAS (DAS28) was calculated for 2659 (91%) RA patients [mean DAS28 was 5.0 and mean Rheumatoid Arthritis Impact of Disease (RAID) score was 5.6]. After 3 months of specialist care, the mean DAS28 was 3.5 and slightly >60% achieved a meaningful DAS28 reduction. The average RAID score and reduction in RAID score were 3.6 and 2.4, respectively. Of the working patients ages 16–65 years providing data, 7, 5, 16 and 37% reported that they were unable to work, needed frequent time off work, occasionally and rarely needed time off work due to their arthritis, respectively; only 42% reported being asked about their work. Seventy-eight per cent of RA patients providing data agreed with the statement ‘Overall in the last 3 months I have had a good experience of care for my arthritis’; <2% disagreed.
Conclusion. This audit demonstrates that most RA patients have severe disease at the time of presentation to rheumatology services and that a significant number continue to have high disease activity after 3 months of specialist care. There is a clear need for the National Health Service to develop better systems for capturing, coding and integrating information from outpatient clinics, including measures of patient experience and outcome and measures of ability to work.