Objectives. Anti-TNF therapy has significantly improved outcomes for patients with severe RA. In the UK, changing financial restrictions and increasing experience with their use may have resulted in changes to the way physicians use anti-TNF therapies. The aim of this analysis was to examine changes in disease characteristics and response rates among patients starting anti-TNF therapy for RA over an 8-year period. Methods. A total of 11 216 RA patients registered between 2001 and 2008 with the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register were included and stratified according to year of first anti-TNF prescription. Baseline characteristics and treatment response were compared year on year using logistic and linear regression models. Results. Mean RA disease activity and severity of new anti-TNF-treated patients decreased between 2001 and 2008. The mean disease duration remained high (11 years in 2008) although the proportion of patients having disease duration <5 years increased significantly (2001: 9%; 2008: 29%; P < 0.001). The majority of patients had failed three DMARDs on average before the first anti-TNF prescription. There was an increase in both the proportion of EULAR good responders at 1 year (2001: 18%; 2008: 30%; P < 0.001) and in the number of patients achieving remission (2001: 8%; 2008: 17%; P < 0.001). Drug survival remained relatively stable over the study years. Conclusions. There is a significant trend towards earlier use of anti-TNF therapies in patients with less severe disease, although the mean disease duration at first treatment remains high. This has correlated with improvements in outcome. These results support the earlier use of anti-TNF therapies in RA.