How we influenced politicians to make arthritis a priority in 2023

09 January 2024

We campaign on the issues that matter most to people with arthritis – from tackling agonising waiting times to calling for increased funding for arthritis research. And, with your help, we’ve achieved real change.  

Whether you signed a petition, contacted a local politician, or campaigned on social media, thousands of you joined us to demand better support for people living with arthritis. 

Here are just a few ways we influenced politicians to make arthritis a priority in 2023 in: 


The Spring and Autumn Budgets

Every year, the UK government announce the Spring and Autumn Budget. which outline its plans for spending and taxes over the next few years. We scrutinised these plans to understand what they mean for people living with arthritis – and we raised your concerns.  

Before the Autumn Statement, we also teamed up with the British Orthopaedic Association to write to the Chancellor, the RT Hon Jeremy Hunt MP.

We shared our worries about how the government had failed to provide extra funding to tackle the growing waiting list for trauma and orthopaedic treatments, such as joint replacement surgery.  

"There's no ignoring the fact that this Autumn Statement is a budget prioritising tax cuts over NHS waiting list cuts”

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Versus Arthritis

Covid Shielding Voices

Illustration of colourful silhouettes with speech bubbles4.1 million people across the UK were identified as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) to Covid-19 and were asked to shield during the pandemic.  

Our report, Covid Shielding Voices, revealed the brutal toll of Covid-19 shielding on people with autoimmune arthritis and rheumatic conditions. 

Shielders told us that they felt that they had been treated like “second-class citizens” whose needs were ignored.

Based on this research, we made recommendations to the Covid Inquiry to make sure the voices of people with arthritis are heard.   

World Arthritis Day Petition 

Lorraine, Ian, Brenda and Versus Arthritis staff handing in letter to 10 Downing StreetOver 28,000 of you signed our open letter on World Arthritis Day in 2022.

This called on the UK government not to abandon people with arthritis to provide better support to people during the cost-of-living crisis.  

Three of our incredible campaigners – Loraine, Ian, and Brenda – joined us to hand in the letter to Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, MP in February 2023.  

"When you think the whole world is against you and no one understands you, Versus Arthritis is there," says Brenda, 64, who lives with osteoarthritis. "I feel so supported, which is why I feel so strongly about campaigning and raising funds."

Major Conditions Strategy  

In January, the government announced plans to tackle England's biggest health challenges – and for the first time, they recognised musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions (like arthritis) as a priority.  

These plans are called the Major Conditions Strategy, and they apply to England. By offering our expert advice and sharing your experiences, we helped to shape this strategy.  

Connecting with politicians

Ken, Toni and Charlotte standing in front of Versus Arthritis signageIt’s important that Members of Parliament (MPs) understand what it’s really like living with arthritis. 

To make this happen, we hosted an event at Westminster, calling on politicians to take arthritis seriously – and we couldn’t have done it without you. Over 2,500 of you asked your MP to attend. 

At the event, our campaigners Toni, Charlotte, and Ken, spoke to over 80 MPs – sharing what it’s like living with arthritis, day in day out. 

"I was able to advocate for people who are being let down by long waiting times and delays in joint replacement surgery," says Toni, 34, who has degenerative arthritis.   

Influencing Party Conferences 

On top of this, we also attended the Conservative, Labour, and Scottish National Party Conferences and shared your stories. At Labour Party Conference, we were joined by Jasmine, 23, who lives with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). 

“I loved attending conference. It was very busy, but it was great to be... able to speak to the people ‘higher up’ who can help us to implement change for people living with arthritis."

Jasmine, 23, who lives with JIA

Tackling waiting lists  

In 2022, the Government and NHS England published a joint plan to tackle long waiting lists for planned hospital treatments. This is called the Elective Recovery Plan.

One of its most important targets was that no one should wait longer than eighteen months for joint replacement surgery by April 2023. We took a deeper look at this policy and what needs to happen to ensure that more surgeries can go ahead.  


World Arthritis Day  

National Botanical Garden lit up in blueThis year, the Welsh Government held Wales’ first ever national World Arthritis Day conference – and we played a crucial role in organising it.  

Over 240 delegates attended the event, learning about new ideas in musculoskeletal services across Wales. On top of this, we also influenced people in power to light up iconic buildings across Wales in blue.  

We also asked you to email your Members of the Senedd (MSs), urging them to contact their local Health Board to find out how they planned to protect surgeries over winter. Over 400 emails were sent to MSs. 

Influencing policy  

This year, we played a vital role in shaping key policies in Wales, such as: 

  • The Quality Statement for Musculoskeletal Health policy, which set out the Welsh Government’s vision for better musculoskeletal care throughout a person’s life. 
  • The Welsh Government’s Waiting Well policy, which will lead to waiting well services being set up in each Health Board in Wales. These are services that can help to support your health and wellbeing while you wait for planned care, such as joint replacement surgery. This could include information on your physical and mental health, as well as advice about practical issues like money worries. 

Northern Ireland 

Responding to budget cuts 

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Versus Arthritis, speaking in Northern IrelandEarlier this year, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Haris MP, said that only £7.2 billion of funding will be given for healthcare in Northern Ireland – roughly the same as the previous year.  

This is a real-terms reduction in health funding for Northern Ireland – and it poses a risk to those waiting for care.  

To tackle this, we wrote to the Permanent Secretary for Health, Peter May, and Chris Heaton-Harris MP, to raise our concerns and demand that vital services are protected.

We then joined forces with the Long-term Conditions Alliance to meet Peter May and key leaders within the Department of Health to highlight the disproportionate impact of the budget on people with conditions such as arthritis. 

Tackling the growing waiting list 

Versus Arthritis campaigners in Stormont, Northern IrelandWe know that thousands of people in Northern Ireland are waiting years in agony for orthopaedic treatments, such as joint replacement surgery. It simply isn’t good enough.  

We’re doing our bit to tackle this, for instance: 

  • After hearing staggering waiting time figures, we wrote to all 90 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLAs) and called on them to take urgent action.  
  • We spoke with Alliance, DUP and Sinn Fein health spokespeople, Paula Bradshaw, Paul Givan and Linda Dillon, to explain what needs to be done to support people with arthritis. 
  • We spoke to BBC NI about the “deafening silence” experienced by people stuck on a waiting list.
  • We ran a session at Northern Ireland’s biggest annual healthcare conference, leading an honest conversation about what needs to be done to prioritise orthopaedic care, with the Department of Health, Royal College of Surgeons, and Kingsbridge Healthcare Group.  
    World Arthritis Day

Northern Ireland councils rose to the challenge on World Arthritis Day and lit up 17 of their iconic buildings blue to mark the occasion.

Standing beside healthcare professionals  

This year, we hosted an event called ‘Professionals Versus Arthritis’, where we: 

  • Recognised the incredible work and innovation of healthcare professionals despite extraordinary pressures in the health service.  
  • Promoted learning and a sense of community. 
  • Highlighted issues in musculoskeletal healthcare provision, such as patient communication, orthopaedic and rheumatology waiting times, pain management and paediatric rheumatology.


Tackling waiting times

In August, we met with the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Michael Matheson, to discuss his plans for tackling orthopaedic waiting times. 

And in October, at the Scottish National Party conference in Aberdeen, we were delighted to hear First Minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf commit an additional £300 million to tackle waiting times over the next three years. 

We have been working with clinicians and other charities to keep a spotlight on the impact of long waits for treatments like joint replacement surgery and to focus on what can be done to change this. 

We hope the investment announcement will bring hope to the thousands of people in Scotland waiting for this life-changing surgery. 

Helping people ‘wait well’ for NHS treatment

Brenda sitting in sofa beside her dog and crutches

The number of people waiting to be admitted for orthopaedic surgery in Scotland has gone up five-fold since 2012.  

Too many people are waiting for too long and it is vital that, while they wait, they are supported and fully informed about their choices waiting for surgery. 

After our Waiting Well Roundtable early in 2023 (when we brought together charities with NHS and the Scottish Government colleagues), we were invited by the Scottish Government to be part of the national Waiting Well Steering Group. .  

We have been working with this group to ensure that the voices of people with arthritis are heard.  

One of the outcomes from this is the new NHS Inform Waiting Well hub, which is packed with helpful tips, advice and stories.

Working shoulder to shoulder with MSPs

Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP, Shadow Minister for Education, at the reception. Behind her is Lauren Bennie, Head of Scotland and Jenni Minto MSP, Public Health MinisterThroughout the year, we worked closely with Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to share the realities of living with arthritis and the importance of our work. For instance: 

  • Kaukab Stewart MSP visited the Versus Arthritis Research Centre at Glasgow University, so that she could see the life-changing research we’re doing.
  • Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP spent time with the Young People and Families Service in Glasgow, sharing her own story of living with JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis) as a child and talking to our young people about their lives.
  • We met with the Minister for Public Health, Jenni Minto.
  • And we were asked to provide the Secretariat for the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal conditions, bringing MSPs together to discuss key issues for people living with arthritis in Scotland. 

And in November we held a reception at the Scottish Parliament bringing supporters, staff and volunteers together with MSPs to celebrate our work and commit to doing more. 

We’re here whenever you need us 

Although this has been a successful campaigning year for us, we know that hundreds of thousands of people are still in need of support.  

If you would like to talk to someone, remember you can:  

Find support near you