A study by the National Audit Office has revealed that up to 75% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis are going undiagnosed.
The report calls on health bosses to do more to deal with rheumatoid arthritis, which is more widespread than previously thought.
The report criticised some services for people with the disease for lack of co-ordination, and said patients’ health and quality of life can be damaged by a delay in treatment.
Chris Groom, audit manager for the report, said: ‘We estimate that 580,000 adults in England have the condition, which is higher than existing estimates of 400,000 for the UK, and that there are 26,000 new cases each year in England, compared to existing estimates of 12,000 for the UK.’
It said public awareness of the disease is low and that early diagnosis, ideally within three months of the first symptom, is paramount to successful treatment.
But too many people put off seeking medical help, according to the report, as between half and three quarters of sufferers wait for three months, while around a fifth delay for a year or longer.
The problem, the report also said, can also be diagnosed by GPs who do not have the specialist knowledge and expertise required to diagnose the disease.