The 7thMeeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases

The 7thMeeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs)  took place on 11 October 2011 under the heading “The social and economic burden of RMDs in Europe – first facts and findings from the EUMUSC.NET project”. Latest data collected by EUMUSC.NET, were presented by Loreto Carmona.

Chair Ms Edite Estrela started the session by welcoming all participants to the 7th meeting of the Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases. Ms Estrela gave a short overview over the history and purposes of the initiative and thanked EULAR for having successfully organized these events in its role as Secretariat of the Interest Group. She introduced the topics on the agenda.


Prof Loreto Carmona (Professor of Research at the University Camilo José Cela,


“The impact of RMDs: healthcare, social security and work-related costs.

Findings from the EUMUSC.NET project”

Prof Loreto Carmona presented first data from the EUMUSC.NET project.The data presented focus on direct costs of RMDs, mainly relating to healthcare costs, and indirect costs referring to lost productivity, for instance due to lost work days. Data stemming from several Member States as well as aggregated data referring to the EU in general showed that musculoskeletal diseases account for very significant costs. They are the major cause of sick leave resulting in a high number of lost work days. Besides, they represent huge costs for the European healthcare systems. Additionally, musculoskeletal diseases are the major cause of disability with large costs of treatment.  These facts demonstrate, according to Prof Carmona, that RMDs have a huge impact on the public budget of the EU and that reducing RMD costs would make a big difference. Prof. Carmona called on politicians to prioritise disability as a key indicator for health in Europe.


Ms Hana Horka (Policy Officer, C4 Unit - Health Determinants, DG Sanco, European Commission):

“The European Commission's perspective on chronic diseases including RMDs”

Ms Horka commenced her presentation by emphasizing the importance the Commission accords to rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases, which were a key public health challenge. She acknowledged that costs related to RMDs represent a huge burden to EU health systems but also to workers and employers. RMDs created more absence days from work due to sickness than any other disease field. Both mortality and morbidity were important benchmarks for public health action. As regards political responsibility Ms Horka underlined the key competences of Member States for improving health care systems. The EU mainly had the role of helping the Member States. The Commission sees its role mainly in supporting the Member States in areas as health promotion, research, and exchange of information, guidelines and good practice.  Furthermore, it was mentioned that the Commission is currently undertaking a reflexion process on chronic diseases, which also includes musculoskeletal diseases. The Commission is going to start a major consultation later in 2012. All stakeholders were invited to contribute. 


Ms Brenda O’Brien (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work):

“The OSHA campaign on working together for risk prevention”

Ms O’Brien started her intervention by referring to a report published by OSHA in 2010 on “Work- related musculoskeletal disorders in the EU – facts and figures” which contains additional work-related data on social and economic costs. She then elaborated on the OSHA campaign that will be launched in April 2012. This campaign has two main aims: first the identification of risk factors for occupational diseases, such as RMDs, and secondly providing practical solutions by reducing these risks. To achieve risk reduction the OSHA team has identified two “magic ingredients”, being leadership and management and participation of workers.  These two factors imply that workers and employers actively work together in providing clear and simple guidance to manage risks at the workplace. In order for the campaign to have a maximum impact across the 40 participating EU countries OSHA uses a wide range of media tools, for instance an online interactive assessment tool. Ms O’Brien also urged relevant organizations to become campaign partners spreading their messages all over Europe.


Mr Jim Higgins (MEP from Ireland, Vice Chair of the Interest Group):

“Discussion with participants and concluding remarks”

Mr Higgins thanked the speakers for their contributions and emphasized the importance of the interest group and the need to get the message out to the public. He urged the EU and Member States to recognize the importance of RMDs and to take action to tackle these diseases. Moreover, he pointed out that one of the key aspects reducing the enormous costs of RMDs was prevention. 


Questions & discussion

Neil Betteridge, the EULAR Vice President representing the EULAR Standing Committee of PARE (People with Arthritis and Rheumatism in Europe) outlined that in Spain there exists a national strategy on RMDs that could feed into a European chronic diseases strategy planned by the Commission as well as a European strategy on RMDs. Another participant was asking which indicators were used to assess the impact of RMDs. Prof Carmona said that the indicator of Quality Adjusted Life Years (QUALYs) was the dominant indicator used. Participants also wanted to know whether the Interest Group would submit a contribution to the reflection process on chronic diseases. Mr Haar, Head of the EULAR Brussels Office, said that EULAR with the support of the Interest Group’s MEPs would certainly participate in the consultation.  

Loreto Carmona