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Five year funding boost for national musculoskeletal research centre

20 Jun 2019

Significant funding award ensures collaborative Centre will continue to make an impact on reducing the burden of work disability caused by musculoskeletal conditions

elderly lady and nurse

The National Centre of Excellence for Musculoskeletal Health and Work has secured a five year, £2.2 million funding award that will enable scientists at The University of Manchester to continue their research in collaboration with the University of Southampton.

The funding was awarded by Versus Arthritis and the Medical Research Council to continue discovering and developing cost-effective ways to reduce the burden of work disability caused by musculoskeletal conditions (MSDs). These include low back pain, osteoarthritis, inflammatory arthritis, gout and rarer conditions such as lupus, which cost an estimated 30.6 million working days to be lost each year. The UK has the highest rates of new claims for disability of any of the Organisation of Economic and Commercial Development (OECD) countries with the two most common causes of disability being musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions.

The Centre was established in 2014 and is coordinated by the University of Southampton’s Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU), based at Southampton General Hospital. The Centre involves multidisciplinary collaboration with the Universities of Manchester, Bath Spa, Keele, Lancaster, Liverpool, and Salford and colleagues at Guys’ and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, the King’s Centre for Military Health Research and the Institute for Employment Studies. 

The team from Manchester is led by Dr Suzanne Verstappen, Professor Katherine Payne and Dr William Whittaker from the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, who were co-investigators of the original Centre. They will continue to look at the economic consequences of worker productivity loss with a special focus on valuing workplace interventions, gaining a better understanding what employers want when considering workplace interventions and using large survey data to perform econometric analysis.

Dr Verstappen commented: “Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) occur across the life course and can influence career opportunities and may lead to health related sick leave and job loss. Despite better treatments for some RMDs in the last two decades, many people still experience problems at work due to ill health (presenteeism) or need to take sick leave.

"This does not only result in economic consequences for the patient, but may also impact on the patient’s self-esteem and social participation. At The University of Manchester we will build on our research carried out during the first five years of the Centre by Dr Cheryl Jones, investigating the economics of presenteeism and will further explore what employers want when considering workplace interventions. The latter is especially important when we want workplace interventions to be successful, not only in large organisations but also in small and medium size enterprises.”   

Professor Karen Walker-Bone, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Musculoskeletal Health and Work commented: “There is plenty of evidence that people with musculoskeletal conditions want to work but that they often need support and suitable adjustments from employers to enable them to work.

“We have put forward an ambitious plan for research that will take place in healthcare settings, public health and workplaces over the next five years in order to better understand how to make differences in all these areas.

“Moreover, we will lead development of consensus work outcome measures (Dr Suzanne Verstappen UoM and Dr Ira Madan Guy’s & St Thomas NHS Foundation Hospital) and develop economic approaches to inform employers of the benefit of investing in prevention of MSDs (Professor Katherine Payne, Dr Suzanne Verstappen, Dr William Whittaker, UoM).”

Professor Walker-Bone continued: “We have found that this is a ‘hot’ area for policy-makers and we plan to strengthen our ability to provide rapidly responsive information to policy-makers. We are delighted to receive this significant uplifted investment.”