Background Health is a devolved matter so Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) services are configured differently in Scotland to other parts of the UK. As the voice for people with RA, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) wants to ensure Scottish patients, their families and carers are fully involved in public policy discussions. To facilitate this, NRAS launched a Scottish Campaigns Network in 2012 to empower Scottish NRAS members to undertake more advocacy.
Objectives To provide meaningful opportunities for patients to work directly with relevant politicians, civil servants and healthcare professionals in Scotland to promote greater awareness of RA and maximise understanding of the key challenges and opportunities to improve quality of care.
Methods NRAS advertised the intention to recruit ten Scottish Ambassadors to its membership in Scotland and its Scottish medical advisers. NRAS then selected those applicants with suitable experience to take part in the initiative. The Ambassadors were given two training sessions in Maidenhead and Edinburgh respectively. The first session introduced the charity’s history, aims and ethos, and the services provided, through a series of meetings with NRAS staff. The second session took place two weeks later in Edinburgh and dealt with parliamentary procedure, RA related health policy and the wider institutional landscape in Scotland. Once completed, the NRAS government affairs team devised a programme of activities for the Ambassadors.
Results With support from NRAS staff, two Scottish Ambassadors attended Scottish party conferences for the first time. There they undertook meetings with politicians including the new Cabinet Secretary for Health, Alex Neil MSP; the Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jackie Baillie MSP; the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie MSP; and the Convenor of the Health and Sport Committee, Duncan McNeil MSP. In addition to this, a Scottish Ambassador was appointed to the Secretariat of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases and organised separate sessions to discuss RA and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Another Ambassador also presented to the Group on the patient experience of living with RA and several Ambassadors submitted case studies on their experiences of care for a new audit of RA services in Scotland. In the autumn, Scottish Ambassadors undertook further training on the drug development process and patient involvement in the Scottish Medicines Consortium with the intention of involving Ambassadors in the future drafting of NRAS consultation responses. They also expressed a desire to help rheumatology units improve information given to newly diagnosed people with RA about locally available support and services.
Conclusions Within the first year of the initiative, the Scottish Campaigns Network has improved NRAS’s level of engagement in Scotland. It has given NRAS a continuous on the ground involvement in Scotland for the first time, expanded the organisation’s campaigning resources, and demonstrated to policymakers that NRAS genuinely represents the local views of Scottish patients. The Ambassadors also felt empowered to raise awareness of RA and the issues people face with policymakers in Scotland.
Disclosure of Interest None Declared