A significant number of patients with severe arthritis are failing to take their therapies properly, which is not only adversely affecting their health but is also wasting precious National Health Service resources.

A study by researchers from the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Genetics and Genomics at The University of Manchester, looking at data from 286 patients attending 60 rheumatology clinics across the UK, found that 27% of those on anti-TNF therapy did not take their medicines as prescribed in the first six months.

This ‘non-adherence’ reduces the effectiveness of treatment - which costs between £8,000 and £12,000 a year per patient - and could also lead to a worsening of disease, the researchers warn.

“If patients do not take their medication as prescribed it is likely to have a significant effect on whether they respond to therapy and could mean that their condition deteriorates more quickly affecting their quality of life,” said study author Kimme Hyrich, stressing that “non-adherence is also a waste of scarce healthcare resources and something that needs to be addressed”.

“The fact that a considerable proportion of patients are missing doses of these very expensive agents is worrying, as clearly their effectiveness would be reduced,” added Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK.

The study, which was published in the journal Rheumatology, did not capture whether this non-adherence was deliberate or accidental, but as many patients are expected to remain on these therapies for many years, it is essential that understanding of the issues is gained to help improve compliance and outcomes.