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a man back pain imageDecember 7 2017

A new online resource addressing productive healthy ageing and musculoskeletal (MSK) health has been published by Public Health England.

The resource is intended for use by health professionals and local authorities, and “makes the case for action in midlife to support healthy productive later life.” It is calling for action to be taken particularly to help reduce the risk of MSK conditions developing, and to enable people to better their health.

“Longer, healthier lives are a benefit to society in many ways, including financial, social and cultural, because older people have skills, knowledge and experience that benefit the wider population,” says PHE. “There is an opportunity to utilise this increased longevity as a resource, whilst challenging ageism and the view that retirement is about ‘sitting more and moving less’.”

The resource includes data around longevity and morbidity, regional differences and health inequalities, and the impact of MSK conditions on healthcare and workforce productivity. “According to Arthritis Research UK, only 59.4% of people of working age with an MSK condition are in work, and around 1 in 5 people with arthritis has depression,” says the resource.

“In 2016, MSK problems were the second most common cause of sickness absence, which accounted for 30.8 million days lost in work (22.4% of total sickness absence).” In addition, MSK conditions “account for the third largest area of NHS spending with a programme budget of £4.7 billion in 2013 to 2014.”

A number of case studies and examples of interventions to prevent the onset of MSK conditions are included in the resource. Infographics set out current recommendations on activity lessons, and other information addresses the impact of maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking, and giving meaning and purpose to life as people age.

In a call to action, PHE’s recommendations for healthcare practitioners and providers includes:

  • All healthcare practitioners should consider how they can influence behaviour to improve MSK health as part of making every contact count (MECC).
  • Make sure that all employees are aware of the tools and resources to assist in raising awareness about the main risk factors associated with MSK health and signposting to the support available in the local area such as PHE’s One You resources and MECC.
  • Raise awareness about the positive actions, such as strength and balance type activity, that individuals can take to look after their bones, muscles and joints across during their life, and provide information to enable individuals who may be at risk or have developed early signs of a MSK disorder to access appropriate help and support in a timely manner.

PHE also wants local government to “support discussions between the wider public health workforce which may include planning teams, housing officers, transport officers and health and safety executives to promote a healthier ageing environment through the use of leisure centres, parks, well designed built environments and social care activities.”

One of the case studies included in the resource is the STarT Back programme, “implementing stratified care for low back pain”. It provides physiotherapists and GPs “with a screening tool to match patients to the most suitable treatment. The tool calculates a risk score for the patient and subsequently recommends appropriate management pathways such as primary care and physiotherapy.”

The toolkit is free to the NHS and is delivered by Keel University. In evaluating its impact in a study in the West Midlands, it was shown to make per patient savings of £34 in health costs and £675 in societal costs. It does this by matching patients to treatment packages appropriate for them, “which:

  • significantly decreases disability from back pain;
  • reduces work absence (average time off work was halved);
  • saves money by making better use of health resources and reducing healthcare utilisation such as GP visits, referral rates, MRIs and medication.”

Links:
PHE announcement     
PHE Guidance ’Productive healthy ageing and musculoskeletal (MSK) health’         
PHE case study ‘Implementing stratified care for low back pain: STarT Back’             

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