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Arthritis is being missed in young

Jun 19 2007

Audrey Forbes, The Journal

North doctors are aiming to speed up the time it takes for children with arthritis to be treated after a new study found "considerable delays" in diagnosis and then referral for specialist hospital care.

The new research also said the lack of awareness among GPs, hospital doctors and parents as to how the illness can affect children may be to blame.

The pilot study, conducted by a team at Newcastle University's Musculoskeletal Research Group, revealed that in some youngsters the significance of their symptoms may have been overlooked.

Now Dr Helen Foster and Professor Carl May have been awarded almost £162,000 over three years by the Arthritis Research Campaign - known as arc - to try to improve the situation.

Dr Foster said: "There is huge ignorance out there about arthritis in children. It is important for children with arthritis to be referred to hospital quickly."

She said delays in referring children with "prolonged, untreated active arthritis" to the children's rheumatology department at the Royal Victoria Infirmary meant by the time they arrived they had problems with mobility.

"We believe this could have could have been avoided if referral had been made sooner," she said.

Newcastle is a leading centre for research into childhood arthritis and Dr Foster, an arc clinical senior lecturer, also runs regular clinics at the RVI, where she is a paediatric rheumatologist.

But despite the city's pre-eminence in the field, the level of awareness of childhood arthritis among doctors in primary and secondary care is often low.

Parents too are sometimes unaware that very young children can develop the condition and may not seek medical attention.

Some children with arthritis in Newcastle were referred quickly and effectively by GPs for specialist treatment, but the spectrum of the length of referral time was "huge".

During the three-year project Dr Foster and her team will interview up to 30 families of affected youngsters, and health care professionals, including family doctors and hospital doctors, before putting forward ways to improve the referral process.

The team expect to find a number of factors contributing to delays in referral.

One is the acknowledged need for further training in clinical skills and knowledge about childhood arthritis, which needs to be directed at all health care professionals that these children may have contact with.

Dr Foster said: "We know that children present in a variety of ways, not just by seeing their GP. Many are seen by different sorts of doctors such as accident and emergency, paediatrics and orthopaedics.

"Many of the parents who took part in our pilot study were told that their child had growing pains."

A solution may be to have a GP within a group of practices specialising in musculoskeletal problems in children.

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