Keele research to improve the lives of people with musculoskeletal conditions

The Nuffield Foundation has awarded researchers from Keele University £1.6 million to help influence policy and practice and to help those who live with musculoskeletal conditions.

Musculoskeletal conditions – including arthritis and back pain - affect 18.8 million people in the UK and are the leading contributor to disability in the UK, with one in five people in England consulting a GP about a musculoskeletal condition every year.

Despite the huge number of people living with these conditions in the UK, there is a lack of evidence on how these conditions progress and their effect on people’s well-being and life chances. The new interdisciplinary research projects will address this by exploring the impacts of musculoskeletal conditions on different aspects of well-being.

The research grants are part of Nuffield Foundation’s £4 million funding to six different research projects, and its dedicated £12.5 million fund for research into MSK conditions.

Professor of Clinical Epidemiology George Peat from Keele’s School of Primary, Community and Social Care, has been awarded £1.3 million in partnership with the charity Versus Arthritis, who have contributed £250,000 towards the grants.

The research aims to improve musculoskeletal health care quality through a novel and scalable approach to linking data across North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. Rich datasets will be created from primary care records, musculoskeletal community service providers and, crucially, surveys of patients and the wider population. This will enable researchers to better understand the extent of inequalities in musculoskeletal health and the impact of service redesign. The team will also produce health intelligence reports to inform decision-makers and service providers that can inform policy and practice.

Professor Peat said: “This is a significant long-term investment from the Nuffield Foundation and Versus Arthritis. Our previous studies suggest that as many as 35,000 adults over 35 years old are living in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent with longstanding, disabling pain. Much of this is due to back or neck pain, osteoarthritis, or other common joint problems. Improving musculoskeletal health in our population is a complex problem and ‘for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong’. Instead it requires joined-up approaches based on sound evidence and that are capable of helping those in most need. This research will provide the new evidence needed to inform and support local and national action.”

GP Dr John Edwards, a senior lecturer in general practice, also from Keele’s School of Primary, Community and Social Care, has been awarded £350,000 to study the impact musculoskeletal conditions have on outcomes of other illnesses, which will generate new knowledge, linking existing data sets to explore the causes and consequences of the condition.

Dr Edwards said: “People with MSK often have other illnesses which health professionals prioritise as they feel they are more serious. This project will identify whether having a musculoskeletal condition and the pain that accompanies it, leads to worse outcomes for those with heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, dementia, or cancer. The project will use data collected from the large UK wide database of general practice records, hospital records and mortality data. If the link is identified, better management strategies before and during hospital admission for these other illnesses could reduce musculoskeletal related pain, improve function and lead to better patient outcomes.”

Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation, said: “The Nuffield Foundation is committed to improving people’s lives through better understanding of the issues affecting their life chances. Together these new projects will improve our understanding of the impact of musculoskeletal conditions on both individuals and wider society. We are delighted to be partnering with Versus Arthritis to help improve the health and well-being of people living with musculoskeletal conditions by influencing future practice, policy and research.”