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World Arthritis Day 2020


Dr Berkeley Phillips
Medical Director, Pfizer UK

This year’s World Arthritis Day provides a focus on the issues faced by people of working age who are living with musculoskeletal (MSK) diseases, such as arthritis. This presents an opportunity to connect them to information that can help them to manage their condition and continue to work safely and effectively. 


This is particularly important, as contrary to popular belief, over 4 million people with osteoarthritis (OA) are of working age in the UK and live with chronic pain related to their condition.1 It makes little sense that many have to consider reducing or giving up employment,2 retiring early,2 because their symptoms are inadequately managed,2,3 as they take with them all their talent and experience that may have been built up over decades of working. It also makes no sense for the ongoing economic prosperity of the country; the cost of working days lost due to arthritis, including OA, is projected to be £3.4bn by 2030.4

OA is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, with the main symptoms being joint pain and stiffness.5 While the underlying cause of OA is unknown, several risk factors are thought to increase a person's likelihood of developing the condition, including joint injury, family history, obesity and being over the age of 45.5 Many people approaching later years have OA to some degree, which affects an estimated 10% of men and 18% of women over the age of 60.6

Too often, the enormous contribution that older people continue to make to the UK economy even after retirement age is overlooked. This can be due to an ageist assumption that they are economically inactive, when in fact many older people regularly care for family members both young and old, enabling many others to continue to work, or carry on working themselves into their 70s and beyond.

In 2016/7, the direct economic contribution of employment, informal caring, including childcare, and volunteering by people aged 65 or over in the UK amounted to £160 bn.7 It is time to consider the full potential of each person throughout their life. At Pfizer UK, it's the norm for multiple generations to work together across teams, learning from each other and contributing different energies and experience to achieve their objectives together.

It's too simplistic to think that an ageing population inevitably means a greater burden of disease and disability from conditions like heart disease or arthritis. This overlooks the fact that these conditions are not limited to older people, the possibility of actively improving health in later life and the fact that investment in appropriate interventions and support now could reduce demand for more expensive health or social care later.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has starkly demonstrated, avoiding disease is important for older people8 – but preserving functionality is also an essential component of healthy ageing as it enables independent living, including the choice to carry on working.

There is an important distinction between simply living longer and the active process of ageing healthily. This distinction is why employers are increasingly recognising the benefits of implementing policies that support valued team members in managing common conditions that might otherwise contribute to increased time off sick or prevent them from being fully productive at work.

Common MSK problems, including arthritis, are the cause of 30 million working days lost in the UK each year,9 so the economic argument for supporting employees to better manage such common conditions should be obvious.

In the UK, organisations such as Versus Arthritis offer people living with the condition practical advice on how to remain active and keep working safely and well into older age. At Pfizer, where good health is seen as fundamental to the social and economic potential of the UK, we remain committed to researching and advancing novel treatment options for MSK conditions as part of our efforts to help reduce the burden of chronic disease for everyone, both young and old.



  1. Arthritis Research UK. Osteoarthritis in general practice July 2013.
  2. Arthritis Research UK. Working with arthritis. June 2016.
  3. Conaghan, P. et al. Current treatment patterns among European patients with osteoarthritis: analysis of a real-world dataset. August 2019.
  4. Versus Arthritis 2019. The state of musculoskeletal health 2019.
  5. NHS. Osteoarthritis. August 2019.
  6. Glyn-Jones, S., et al. Osteoarthritis. Lancet 386(9991), pp. 376-387. March 2015.
  7. Age UK. The Economic Contribution of Older People in the United Kingdom – An Update to 2017. 2017.
  8. British Medical Association. COVID-19: Doctors isolating and those in vulnerable groups. September 2020.
  9. NHS. NHS Long Term Plan. January 2019.

PP-PPF-GBR-0031 / Oct 2020