Workshop: Case Study - Arthritis group flags up NHS neglect

Francois Le Goff

Organisation: Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (Arma)

Objective: To launch a set of standards of care for people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions

Agency: Furner Communications


The publication of the White Paper on public health threatened to eclipse the launch of Arma's standards of care, which took place at around the same time. But instead the organisation managed to secure good media coverage by focusing its press release on the failure of the NHS to address the needs of people with musculo-skeletal conditions.


The alliance, a consortium of 28 organisations including Arthritis Care and Backcare, wanted to announce a set of standards enabling people with musculo-skeletal conditions to know what level of care and treatment they should expect, and to provide health professionals with guidance on how to improve their services. The charity and its members decided to develop their own standards of care, arguing that the Government has so far failed to address these needs in its National Service Framework for older people.

They met with Ben Furner from Furner Communications six weeks ago to prepare for the standards' launch and produced a press release embargoed until 15 November, which was expected to be relatively quiet after weeks of coverage of the US election.

But a few days before the launch, the Department of Health announced it was about to publish its White Paper on public health. The alliance feared that the launch of its standards would be overshadowed by the paper, which was expected to focus on smoking with very little mention of arthritis and related conditions. It therefore decided to make last-minute changes to its press release.

How it worked

Instead of announcing the new standards, the press release started by highlighting a survey in which 92 per cent of doctors and health professionals said the NHS does not provide the level of services needed by people with musculo-skeletal conditions.

Furner contacted newspaper health correspondents after hearing about the White Paper. He advised them that 8.5 million people were being let down by the NHS's failure to provide adequate services for people with musculo-skeletal conditions.

On the Sunday before the launch, Furner wrote a statement drawing attention to the survey and attached it to the press release. The statement also aimed to link the announcement of the standards to the White Paper by saying that the charity did not expect the document to give arthritis and related conditions the attention they deserved.

Arma chief executive Sophie Edwards said: "The Government's insistence that it cares about people with musculoskeletal conditions rings hollow.

Our standards of care offer some pragmatic solutions to the current failures in healthcare provision."


Over the weekend and the day before the publication of the White Paper on 16 November, the Arma survey was covered by The Observer, The Times, Radio 5 Live, and the BBC's One O'Clock News, News 24, and Breakfast.

In response, the Department of Health issued a statement from Health Minister Stephen Ladyman saying that the Government will publish a National Service Framework for people with long-term conditions such as arthritis in the coming year.

But Arma spokesperson Rosemarie Chapman said that an occasional mention in a public statement is not enough. "If it were clearly mentioned in the White Paper, it would automatically be added to health professionals' 'red' list," she said.

Chapman added that the charity would campaign to include arthritis and related conditions in legislation following the White Paper.

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