Thousands of rheumatoid arthritis patients are not being given vital tests to track the progress of their condition, it has been claimed.
A tenth of sufferers questioned for a survey said they had never had their disease activity score (DAS) measured, despite undergoing regular hospital check-ups.
DAS is used to assess the progression of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and monitor how well the disease is being controlled.
It helps doctors to make important decisions about treatment. Under guidelines issued by health watchdog Nice, the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence, a DAS assessment should be carried out at least every six months.
An estimated 487,000 people in the UK suffer from RA, an auto-immune disease that attacks the joints and causes long-term disability. The direct and indirect cost to the NHS of tackling RA is put at between £3.8 billion and £4.75 billion a year.
The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) launched a campaign aimed at raising awareness of DAS among RA patients.
Results of a survey by the charity suggest that 90% of RA sufferers do not know their DAS score. The survey of 100 patients from around the UK also found that almost 20% of those questioned did not know if they had undergone a DAS examination. Ten per cent said they had never had the test.
A DAS assessment involves a systematic search for signs of swelling and tenderness in different limb joints. Scores for each part of the body are added up to provide a measurement of disease activity.
Professor Peter Taylor, from Imperial College London, co-author of a new guide on managing RA published by the NRAS, said: "Rheumatoid arthritis can often be well controlled by treatment and much research shows that this is best achieved when a regular measurement of disease activity is undertaken in order that appropriate adjustments to treatment are made.
"A number of measures of disease activity are available of which DAS is one of the most widely used in trials and everyday clinical practice. I encourage my patients to take an active role in their disease management and we work closely together to achieve the best treatment outcomes and prognosis."
Press Association, 27th April 2009