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Rheumatology Unit Wins National Award

A service for people with rheumatoid arthritis has won a prestigious award for the pioneering support it gives to patients with long-term health problems.

The direct access system developed by University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust's Rheumatology Unit beat national competition to earn a Guardian Public Service Awards title.

The system won in the category for service delivery for treatment of long-term conditions at a ceremony in London this week.

Direct access allows patients to get advice and arrange hospital outpatient appointments at their choosing through a dedicated helpline. The system helps patients to manage their health better and to stay out of hospital.

A patient in pain can call the helpline, which is staffed by a team of specialist nurses who can advise and book them in within days to see a doctor if they need treatment.

They can also book them in to nurse appointments or refer them to other team members such as physiotherapists or occupational therapists.

The direct access clinic was set up by rheumatology unit head Professor John Kirwan and Sarah Hewlett, Professor of Rheumatology and Nursing at the University of the West of England.

Prof Kirwan said: "We are delighted to have won this award - it is great to get national recognition on behalf of the team for an initiative which is making a real difference to the lives of our patients."

Rheumatoid arthritis affects people of all ages and causes severe pain, stiffness and disability.

The clinic, which is based at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, was set up when it became evident that the existing system could be improved for patients, who go through better and worse periods.

Prof Kirwan said: "Traditional clinic visits to the medical specialist are made at fixed dates; referral to physiotherapy, expert nurses and occupational therapy is made as necessary at the time.

"However, this does not put patients' needs first, wastes visits when the patient is well and fails to provide care when pain and inflammation are at their worst."

Direct access has become a huge success. Now, patients can get an appointment within days of their call to the clinic. They far prefer the new system - which is also cheaper to run - and the clinic is now being copied by hospitals elsewhere in the UK and abroad.

The judges said the winning project provided an innovative and sensitive joined-up service, which was solely about user needs.

For further information, contact the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust press office on 0117 342 3751.

Editor's note:

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust manages eight hospitals: Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol Eye Hospital, Bristol Haematology & Oncology Centre, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, St Michael's Hospital, University of Bristol Dental Hospital, the Homeopathic Hospital and Bristol General Hospital.