The time it takes to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis and offer treatment is around nine months – the same as seven years ago, MPs have said.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee has revealed that patients could suffer damage to their heart and lungs if access to treatment is delayed.
It blamed the lack of improvement on an absence of public awareness on symptoms of arthritis – people not seeking help quick enough – and GPs failing to spot symptoms or refer to specialists.
The average number of times a patient with arthritis sees a doctor before given a referral is four, while 20% visit a GP double that amount or more before referral.
The cross-party group of MPs called for more GP training and highlighted wide variations in spending.
The report said: "GPs receive on average only two hours of teaching on musculoskeletal conditions during their training, including minimal coverage of inflammatory arthritis.
"Data presented by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society identified variations in spending by primary care trusts on rheumatoid arthritis services of between £5.68 and £17.58 per head – a greater than threefold difference."