SIP Presents - An Interview with Neil Betteridge on EULAR 2016


Brussels, Belgium 12th of October 2016

The EULAR Brussels Conference 2016, which took place on the same day as World Arthritis Day, aimed to contribute to the ongoing revision of EU legislation and policies on health and safety at work. RMDs are the largest and most burdensome work-related diseases, and hence the principal cause of work loss, absenteeism and early retirement. The aim of the event was to bring together the RMD community, policy makers and stakeholders to develop policy recommendations to better prevent RMDs in the workplace as well as to facilitate the retention of people with RMDs at work.

Societal Impact of Pain: What was the overall objective of the meeting?

Neil Betteridge: The conference took place this year on the 12th of October, and was entitled “How to reduce the burden of chronic diseases in the workplace: New policies for better working conditions and the retention of ill people at work”.  The aim was to develop policy recommendations to EU and national policymakers on this topic. All 3 EULAR pillars – PARE, health professionals (HPs) and clinicians were equally involved in the planning and delivery of what proved to be a highly successful event. Thanks go to the EULAR Brussels office, with support from the EULAR secretariat, for much of the hard work involved.

SIP: Can you tell me more about PARE? 

NB: EULAR supports the development of user-led organisations on a national as well as on an international level. Its members are organisations which support people with arthritis/rheumatism on a national level. The organisations differ across Europe in terms of size, structure and activities, but work with and for people with arthritis/rheumatism in that country. Activities may include lobbying at the national level, e.g., raising awareness of the disease, defending the civil rights of people with arthritis, or having access to the latest and most appropriate treatments. PARE is represented on EULAR's Executive Committee not only by the PARE Chair but also by the Vice President of EULAR, representing PARE.

SIP: Are there more specific aims that you can elaborate on?

NB: Improving working conditions is a huge issue. The impact of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) is the most important work-related health problem and the main cause of work loss, absenteeism and early retirement. Within the factors which cause this, chronic pain is highly significant. Moreover, the European Commission is currently reviewing existing legislation on health and safety at work and is likely to propose new legislative and non-legislative measures shortly.

SIP: So, given your aims and objectives, what was actually discussed?

NB: The two main issues discussed at the conference were how to improve working conditions to better prevent work-related RMDs; and how to improve working conditions to facilitate the retention of people with RMDs at work, as well as the return to work after sick leave. For people with RMDs there are often obstacles which prevent timely access to occupational therapists and other HPs. Such restrictions and delays only worsen the impact of the condition and can mitigate against an early return to productivity and normal life.

SIP: Could you possibly go into some more detail?

NB: Several workshops were organised to explore these themes in more detail. One such workshop, for example, was organised in collaboration with the European Social Insurance Platform (ESIP), and co-chaired by Dr Annette de Thurah (Chair of the EULAR Standing Committee of HPs) and Franz Terwey (ESIP Director). The participants identified 4 main challenges: i) lack of awareness among workers with RMDs of how health professionals could help them - and how to access them ii) insufficient awareness of the existence of evidence based guidelines, and the relevant regulatory framework iii) the problem that reimbursement is not always based on evidence of outcomes iv) and the fact that in some countries, there is a lack of occupational health professionals with adequate qualifications and training. Delegates also stressed the need to raise awareness about the role and contribution of occupational HPs, and how to access them; the need to share good practices on access to occupational HPs; and the need to promote co-operation between sectors, especially health and employment, at both EU and national levels. As next steps, EULAR will shortly produce a report of the meeting which will be publicly available. As so many of the issues raised at the vent relate to topics of interest for the Societal Impact of pain initiative, you may wish to post the report on the SIP website.

SIP: How would you say that this is also relevant to SIP?

NB: Well, EULAR will also develop and then share policy recommendations based on the outputs of the conference recommendations. Once these are approved by the EULAR Executive Committee, we will engage in advocacy actions aiming to reduce the burden of RMDs in the workplace. The issue of chronic pain management will of course be a key consideration going forward.

SIP: Excellent, so what are the next steps?

NB: I am also delighted to report that the day after the conference, the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis, and members of his cabinet, received a EULAR delegation. This comprised, Prof. Gerd R. Burmester (EULAR President), Annette de Thurah (Chair of the HP Standing Committee), Prof. Hans Bijlsma (President Elect) Sören Haar (Head of the EULAR Brussels Office) and me. The aims of the meeting were to explore possible enhanced collaboration between the Commission and EULAR; discuss ongoing EU policies on public health; and to present EULAR’s views and recommendations. Specifically, we discussed the Commission’s work on chronic diseases; the possible contribution of EULAR to both the EU Health Policy Platform and other policy initiatives; the development of the health workforce in the area of RMDs, including HP mobility issues; and the need to promote actions on early intervention. The meeting was fruitful and a number of follow-ups were agreed, which we will we share with you as they take shape.

SIP: Thank you very much Neil for taking the time to answer my questions.

Neil Betteridge, International Liaison Officer, Public Affairs, EULAR

Neil Betteridge has over 25 years’ experience working in strategic leadership, public affairs and high level communications in healthcare and pain policy. He has previously held the position of CEO of Arthritis Care in the UK and currently runs his own company.

Societal Impact of Pain (SIP) Website Editor

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