Governments across Europe are being urged to create a comprehensive strategy to tackle rheumatic and musculoskeletal conditions, which currently affect an estimated 100 million European citizens.
The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) has called on the European Union to work with member states to address the workplace barriers that rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) present, by encouraging more flexible working and digital healthcare solutions.
EULAR estimated that RMDs account for around 60% of all health problems in the workplace and claimed they are the biggest cause of sickness absence and premature retirement across Europe.
Sickness absence related to RMDs is thought to cost around €163bn (£147bn) annually, it claimed.
Speaking during a forum in Brussels, EULAR president Professor Iain McInnes said: “For many people living with RMDs job insecurity and unemployment are a daily reality that much of the rest of society only experiences in times of crisis. The pandemic has created new workplace barriers for Europeans with RMDs, but it has also highlighted the opportunities flexible working patterns and digital workplace and healthcare solutions can offer this community.”
EULAR said the Covid-19 pandemic has presented further challenges for RMD patients; some have greater vulnerability to the virus due to being treated with immunosuppressants and steroids or have a common co-morbidity, such as cardiovascular disease, that intensifies risk.
They have also been affected by reduced access to medication or healthcare facilities, as governments focus on getting the pandemic under control and treating those affected by the coronavirus.
Roberta Metsola MEP, chair of the European Parliament Interest Group on RMDs, said: “To support the economic recovery, and ensure that Europe can cope with an ageing population and workforce in the future, the EU must act decisively to develop a comprehensive approach to tackling the hidden human and economic cost of excluding people with RMDs from the workplace.
“One element of the EU strategy on RMDs must be to ensure that the post-2020 EU disability strategy better responds to the employment needs of people with RMDs, and sets member states clear targets and timelines to ensure adequate resources are available.”