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"I was a patient on Ward 19 (Freeman) and want you to know that each and every one of the staff were amazing - the care and attention that I received was 100% plus!" Mrs ES

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ankylosing spondylitis

A long-term condition affecting the spine. Ankylosing means inflammation and spondylitis means inflexibility of a joint so it cannot bend.  Find out more about this condition at NHS Choices.

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Musculoskeletal Services


Rheumatology Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

We appreciate that many people are worried about COVID-19, and want information and advice in order to make decisions about their own care, and those around them.

We are receiving a lot of telephone calls and are doing our best to respond within 24-48 hours or by booking a telephone appointment with one of our team. Please see the following advice, which will be regularly updated, before contacting us.

Changes to the Rheumatology Service

The majority of our clinics are now telephone clinics, reserving the few face to face clinics we have for more urgent issues and new patients. We encourage people under our care to use our advice line (0191 213 7967) if they require phone advice or feel they need to be seen by one of our team.

Face to face appointments are limited because of capacity in the musculoskeletal outpatient department. We cannot see as many patients as we were able to previously, because we need to make sure that patients and staff can remain safe and socially distance in the department.

Please do not attend the department if you have a cough, fever, loss of, or change in, sense of taste or smell.

Information for patients

Hospital appointments:

Please wear a face covering when you come to the hospital.

Health professionals will be wearing protective equipment.

We hope that you will feel safe if you need to attend in person.

Blood Monitoring:

You should continue to attend for your scheduled monitoring appointments, unless told otherwise.

If your blood tests have been stable, we may extend the time between blood tests.


Prescribed drugs will now be delivered to your house - please make sure you tell us if you want to pick up your medications from the hospital pharmacy or if you want them sent to an alternative address.

You should order your prescriptions as normal on our prescription phone line - 0191 213 8938

Day case unit:

We are contacting some patients who are due to come to our Day Case Unit, Ward 20 in order to discuss whether we should postpone some treatments.

On balance we feel that it is probably better for you to attend for your scheduled treatment rather than defer.

Social distancing is happening on the day case unit so fewer patients can be treated at any one time.

Please attend alone if possible (or discuss in advance with staff if this is not possible)

Please wear a mask when you come to the day case unit.

The staff are wearing PPE so you should feel safe.

Tips to prepare for a telephone consultation:

  • The number may show as a private or withheld number.
  • We may ring earlier or later than the time you have been given, but it will almost always be on the same morning or same afternoon
  • Be somewhere where you can have a private/confidential conversation
  • Have a list of your medication ready
  • Think about what issues you want to discuss before the call

Information for GPs / advice and referrals

Advice and guidance - is available as previously for general practitioners to contact the department.

Urgent cases should be discussed with the on-call team via the hospital switchboard.

At present, we have very little capacity to see new patients who do not have an inflammatory rheumatic condition, or where our input is unlikely to provide clinical benefit to the patient.

Rheumatology helpline on 0191 213 7967 (Monday - Friday 0900 - 1600) is also available if the query / message is not appropriate for A+G or on call urgent issue.

Our Early Arthritis Clinic is running again for new patients, but now functions with only one visit to the hospital (previously patients attended twice in consecutive weeks) therefore we are asking GPs to perform blood tests for patients before they attend.

Our fast track service for suspected GCA is running as normal.

We are NOT advising patients to routinely stop or reduce their medications

High Risk Patients that Required 'Shielding'

Following the Government advice on the 22nd March, there were some clinical conditions and treatments which were identified to place people at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. These patients were advised to 'shield' during the peak of the pandemic.

The government has updated its advice on the 4th August and is now advising that there is no longer a need to shield i.e. shielding is paused. Now:

  • you can go to work as long as your workplace is Covid-secure (please see for more details), but you should carry on working from home if at all possible
  • you can go outside as much as you like, but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low
  • you can visit businesses, such as supermarkets, pubs and shops, while keeping 2 metres away from others wherever possible
  • you should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace
  • you will no longer receive free food parcels, medicines and basic care from the National Shielding Service

If you need help with care but you're not sure who to contact please visit

Social distancing

You should continue to follow Public Health England advice on social distancing:

Useful Contact Numbers

Rheumatology Advice Line: 0191 213 7967

Repeat Prescription request line (for patients who normally receive their rheumatology prescription from us): 0191 213 8938

Connective Tissue Disease Specialist Nurses: 0191 223 1503

Ward 20 Day Unit: 0191 223 1699

Other useful links

Versus Arthritis information on coronavirus:

Letter to our rheumatology patients (April 2020): Rheumatology_Department_COVID-19_letter_to_patients.pdf

Letter to CCG regarding changes to service (April 2020): Newcastle_Rheumatology_Services_-_response_to_COVID-19.pdf

British Society of Rheumatology:

Link to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website for self-management of musculoskeletal problems:

Page last updated 11/09/20

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