How much do you know about rheumatoid arthritis? Almost 700,000 people in the UK suffer from this condition although it is often believed to be a condition that only affects elderly people. The truth is that anyone over 16 can develop rheumatoid arthritis – and each year, 31,000 people are newly diagnosed.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that line joints, causing pain and swelling. Over time, this can damage the joint itself, as well as the surrounding cartilage and bone, meaning that movement becomes increasingly difficult.
It is a chronic condition, so there is no cure, but it does in some cases improve on its own or as a result of treatment. Most people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis will be affected to varying degrees over many years – sufferers may have long periods where their condition is in ‘remission’, and then sudden flare-ups of pain and inflammation can occur. Sufferers will often struggle to continue working in the same way that they did before their diagnoses, as the condition can often be unpredictable.
This means that it is key for employers to speak to employees about the kind of reasonable adjustments they may need (i.e. changes to workloads or working environments). The government’s Access to Work fund is designed to help people and employers cover costs of disabilities that might be a barrier to work. Employees are eligible to receive funding under the scheme if their illness prevents them doing their job normally – which rheumatoid arthritis often does.
The money received under the Access to Work scheme can help make working life much easier for people with rheumatoid arthritis, as well as helping employers with the financial cost of making workplace adjustments. The fund can cover things like equipment adaptation or buying special work equipment, fares to work if an employee struggles to use public transport, a support worker to help you in your workplace, and even disability training awareness for colleagues.
Even without funding through Access to Work, employers with staff suffering with rheumatoid arthritis can still make simple, everyday changes to the workplace to help make work easier. Every person’s condition is different, but some adjustments to consider may be:
- ensuring that good posture is maintained in employees’ job tasks;
- alteration to working hours;
- flexible working (e.g. altering start/finish times, particularly during acute episodes; working additional hours when well to allow for sick time during acute episodes);
- changing tasks or the pace of work to avoid exacerbating the condition;
- allowing for reasonable time off for treatment.
For more information on the effects of arthritis in the workplace, visit the Fit for Work advice hub or call the advice line on 0800 032 6235. To find out more about the Access to Work scheme, visit the website.