AGORA | Report on EULAR Conference for the World Arthritis Day
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Report on EULAR Conference for the World Arthritis Day

“Reducing the burden of chronic diseases in the workplace”
Brussels, 12 October 2016

For yet another year, EULAR has successfully organized its annual conference on the World Arthritis Day (WAD), on the 12th of October 2016, in Brussels. For this year, the EULAR conference focused on reducing the burden of chronic diseases in the workplace, giving a closer look at policies and legislation towards creating better working conditions but also the retention of ill people at work. This aim of the conference was to inform the participants about the existing EU policies and legislation on occupational safety and health, but at the same time to raise awareness about the importance and urgency of taking action on RMDs in the workplace. Ultimately, EULAR aims, through its recommendations, to influence EU and national policies in achieving better working conditions for people with RMDs and chronic diseases. Agora was represented at this meeting by Elena Tsigki, Agora Secretariat and Project Coordinator.

EULAR’s President, Professor Gerd Burmester, chaired the opening session following a brief presentation on the importance of WAD in raising awareness and focusing on health and safety at work. He pointed out that policy makers and other stakeholders should really be looking at Prevention of RMDs in the workplace, but also at Retention of people with RMDs at work, which would eventually minimize the costs for the governments and empower people to keep on being productive members of the society. During the opening session, a video of the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Roberta Thyssen, was broadcasted. Her message was on point: “Don’t delay, connect today. Stay on the workforce and prevent the chronification these diseases”. Later on, Roberta Metsola, Member of the EU Parliament and Chair of the Interest Group on RMDs, gave a speech about the work and lobbying being done within the parliament by herself and the group. She urged that the policy makers invested in people’s future by promoting prevention, early diagnosis and early treatment. The opening session was concluded by Marios Kouloumas, Vice-President of EULAR and representative of the Standing Committee of PARE, who also explained that prevention and retention are key to lifting barriers and enabling people with RMDs remaining active citizens and working in a safe and adaptive working environment.

In the next part of the program, Oscar Vargas, Research Officer in Working Conditions and Industrial Relations Unit; European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), talked about the “Main challenges in health and safety at work for people with chronic conditions”. He was followed by Dr Rikke Helene Moe, Physical Therapist and Researcher, National Advisory Unit on Rehabilitation in Rheumatology (Norway), who presented about “Work is good – RMDs, clinical impact and preventive strategies”. Right after, Antonio Cammarota, Team Leader – Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at workplace, DG Employment and Social Affairs, European Commission focused his presentation about “How does the EU intend to contribute to reducing the burden of RMDs and other chronic diseases in the work place? Legislation and policy initiatives developments”. The session was concluded by a presentation of Marios Kouloumas (in lieu of Dieter Wiek, Chair of the Standing Committee of PARE, where he presented the results of a survey conducted amongst the EULAR patient associations related to “Preventing RMDs and including people with RMDs in the work place: The experience and views of the RMD community”. A Q&A session followed.

After the end of the keynote presentations, all participants were divided into three groups and attended three different workshops. Agora’s representative attended Workshop 2 on “Dealing with RMDs in the workplace: How to improve access to occupational health professionals and therapists?”. The workshop was co-organized by EULAR and the European Social Insurance Platform (ESIP) and it was facilitated by Annette Ladefoged de Thurah (EULAR) and Franz Terwey (ESIP). During the workshop the participants had a very constructive discussion about issues surrounding awareness and accessibility to occupational health professionals and therapists. It became clear that some of the challenges for people with RDs to access occupational health professionals and therapists were a) the lack of awareness of the availability and possibilities provided; b) lack of transparency of process and outcomes (lack of proper guidelines, evidence-based and regulatory framework); c) lack of quality control and enforcement; d) lack of qualification and perfection (training and education of specialized health professionals. Throughout the discussions it was pointed out that there is a clear role for patient organizations in educating patients and building a community of educated patients.

Workshop 1 was co-organized by EULAR and the European Public Service Union (EPSU), and chaired by Prof. Hans Bijlsma (EULAR) & Mathias Maucher (EPSU). This workshop was about “Primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of RMDs in the work place: What legislation and policy initiatives do we need?”. Workshop 3 on “How to facilitate the retention of people with RMDs in the work place as well as the return to work after sick leave?” was co-organized by EULAR and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work- EU-OSHA and was chaired by Ailsa Bosworth (EULAR & NRAS) & Brenda O’Brien (EU-OSHA).

The afternoon session of the program was followed by a report-of-workshops session along with a brief Q&A session. The chaise of each workshop presented the results and outcomes of each workshop and thereafter summed up some recommendations for each subject discussed. The program continued with a panel debate moderated by journalist Cathy Smith. A panel which included personalities such as Biljana Borzan (Member of the European Parliament), Antonio Cammarota (Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at workplace, DG Employment and Social Affairs, European Commission), William Cockburn (Head of the Prevention and Research Unit, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work), Marina Monaco (Advisor, European Trade Union Confederation), Patrick Gibbels (European Small Business Alliance), Prof. Anthony Woolf (Universities of Exeter and Plymouth & EULAR). The panelists were called to answer questions about the need of better EU legislation to reduce the burden of RMDs in the work place. All panelists gave interesting insights on the question and they all agreed that everything really comes down to “Health Protection, Health Promotion and Early intervention”. Both legislation, institutions, employers and other stakeholders must work together to implement the existing legislation. Perhaps the question is not necessarily that more and new legislation is needed, but the question is finding ways to secure legislations implementation. Legislation is only one part of the equation, while education, awareness raising and training complete it.

The conference was concluded by the closing session which featured presentations by the Portuguese MP Ricardo Baptista Leite, Leen Meulenbergs, a WHO Representative to the European Union and Takis Hadjigeorgiou, Member of the European Parliament. The final remarks were delivered by Prof. Burmester, who once again stressed that importance should be given mostly to primary, secondary and tertiary prevention; early stage detection and treatment of RMDs; retention of people with RMDs in the workplace and facilitation to return to work; implementation of the knowledge of healthy workplaces into everyday practice; guidelines for the implementation of EU legislation; education and training.

All rights reserved to EULAR.

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