National Charity launches first of its kind e-learning programme in Rheumatoid Arthritis – SMILE-RA

17 September 2021

Today, 17 September, 2021, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society launches a unique new resource to add to its portfolio of supported self-management programmes, services, publications and digital offerings, called SMILE-RA (Self-Management Individualised Learning Environment in Rheumatoid Arthritis). 

Rheumatoid Arthritis (>400,000 adults live with RA in the UK) is a serious and complex autoimmune disease characterised by pain and fatigue and without the right care and treatment, people affected can experience irreversible damage to joints quite quickly which can result in long term disability. Although great strides have been made in the last 20 years in the understanding of the causes of RA and how to treat it, a diagnosis of RA and adjusting to life with this disease is difficult and learning to get the best out of treatment, understand what an individual can do to help themselves manage their RA as well as navigating, a sometimes complex healthcare system can be extremely daunting. 

The British Society for Rheumatology recently published a report on the state of the rheumatology workforce – Rheumatology Workforce : A Crisis in Numbers, which has revealed chronic workforce shortages and high levels of vacancies. This means the specialty lacks sufficient staff and resources to provide the level of complete care recommended by NICE guidance

For both of the above key reasons, the need for people with a long term, chronic condition like RA, to learn about the importance of supported self-management and how to cope and manage their disease day to day in the best ways possible, has never been more important. Getting the right education, information and support at the right time is likely to improve emotional and physical wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression (both common co-morbidities in RA), reduce feelings of isolation and make people feel more in control of their lives (rather than the disease controlling them). Much of the education which may have been available through multi-disciplinary teams in some rheumatology departments throughout the UK had all but disappeared prior to the pandemic for the reasons outlined in the BSR’s report, yet NICE Quality Standards state: Adults with rheumatoid arthritis are given opportunities throughout the course of their disease to take part in educational activities that support self-management. [2013, updated 2020] 

SMILE-RA is easily accessible and intuitive to use, contains engaging video and voice over content, is interactive and has been co-produced, at every step, with health professionals and people who live with RA. Ailsa Bosworth MBE, NRAS’s Founder and National Patient Champion, who has been responsible for developing the modular content said “I can’t wait for this programme to launch, it’s been a huge amount of work getting to this point, and we have many more modules still to develop, but I only wish I had had access to this kind of resource when I was diagnosed. I really hope that people will benefit from participating in the programme.”

It isn’t just at the point of diagnosis but at times throughout their life with RA that people need information and support. Everyone is different and the condition itself varies from person to person, so it’s vitally important that each individual learns about their disease and is given access to the tools and techniques to ‘manage’ their lives with RA. Individuals living with any long-term condition who are well informed and educated about their disease demonstrate far better outcomes for themselves, their families, their employers, their communities and the health service. We’re all winners! I am incredibly proud of this programme and trust it will soon be starting to change minds, services and lives.
Clare Jacklin, NRAS CEO

Please contact NRAS at 01628 823 524 or email for further information.