Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has thrown his weight behind the Sunday Express Better Bones campaign.
He is calling on the Government to start “preventing problems, not just fixing people afterwards”.
The misery caused to patients who end up breaking bones and needing hip and knee replacements – and the subsequent cost to the NHS – could be avoided if the Government increased funding into the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis before it is too late, argues Mr Hancock.
Fractures are the fourth worst cause of premature death and disability. Osteoporosis weakens bones to the point they can break easily.
Half of women and a fifth of men over 50 will suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis.
One in four who suffer a hip fracture dies in a year, and eight in ten will need to a walking stick.
READ MORE: Support soars for Express campaign to wipe out ‘silent killer’ osteoporosis
The Better Bones campaign, in conjunction with the Royal Osteoporosis Society, is calling for an extra £30million in funding each year to improve the quality and coverage of specialist fracture centres – known as Fracture Liaison Clinics.
But a postcode lottery means some areas of the UK are not covered by one and others have insufficient resources.
Our campaign is calling for all over-50s to have access to dedicated bone specialists at these clinics as well as a Fracture Tsar appointed to each British nation.
It is estimated that the extra measures would save 8,000 lives over five years and slash £665million off NHS spending.
Mr Hancock is just one of 140 MPs and Peers now backing our campaign, along with 716 medics.
He said: “For the NHS to thrive in the 21st century, we’ve got to be better at preventing problems, not just fixing people afterwards.
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“That means stopping breaks and fractures, not just replacing hips and knees. Osteoporosis clearly puts people at a much higher risk of breakages.
“These proposals from the ROS are what the NHS needs to keep people healthy and make sure we reduce demand on the NHS.
“I wholeheartedly support this campaign, and I urge Sunday Express readers to support it too.”
About 3.5 million people in the UK suffer with the condition, but most are undiagnosed.
If undetected osteoporosis leads to bone fractures throughout the body which worsen as the disease progresses. Yet highly effective medication is available.
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In areas with Fracture Liaison Clinics, patients who have suffered a fracture can be referred to bone specialists and tested for osteoporosis using a DEXA bone density scan.
They will then be given treatment and lifestyle advice.
Celia Gregson, Professor of Healthy Ageing and an expert in osteoporosis, said due to poor care, following an initial fracture patient health deteriorates by the time they are referred to her and have often suffered a broken hip.
“Many patients who have had a fracture in the previous decade – who have had plenty of time to be given medication to prevent a subsequent fracture – wind up under my care with the biggest bone in their body broken.
“Their life usually changes forever after this: 80 per cent never get their lives back and 28 per cent die within a year – a worse mortality than most cancers.
“Breaking a hip is a massive physiological insult and the risks of operation in the elderly are significant. Post-operatively people often develop delirium, lose weight, muscle, mobility and don’t get back to where they were.
Many end up in care homes.
“It is unforgivable we have not done something to prevent this. We have cheap and effective drugs. A hip fracture is an extremely painful injury. It’s inhumane. It is great that a national newspaper is advocating for fracture liaison services because they are so important.”
The Government is now reviewing its Major Conditions Strat-egy and “how to prevent, diagnose, treat and manage the six major health conditions”.
The findings are expected until January and even there is no indication osteoporosis will get the funds needed.
Craig Jones, CEO of the ROS, said: “Every week we’re building momentum.
Dozens of doctors are fighting locally to get these life-saving fracture services set up.
But since there’s no national mandate resources get diverted elsewhere.
“Yet every day 200 people suffer a life-threatening hip fracture.
“It shouldn’t take the Govern-ment six months to make their mind up about this.”
Felicity: I joined the fight after watching active mother suffer
Actress Felicity Kendal has told how watching her mother “shrinking” made her a passionate campaigner about the horrors of osteoporosis.
The actress says her mum Laura, who died aged 82, became isolated and fearful of going out because of the brittle bone disease.
She is now determined to prevent others falling prey to the condition which can lead to death and disability.
Felicity, 76, is an ambassador for the Royal Osteoporosis Society and is backing the Sunday Express Better Bones campaign, launched in partnership with the charity.
The star also revealed she fears she too might develop the disease and be unable to pick up her grandchildren.
So she follows a lifestyle that strengthens and protects her bones.
The TV and theatre favourite, best known for her role as Barbara Good in 1970s sitcom The Good Life, says of her support of the ROS and the Better Bones campaign: “Joining this charity was a salute to my mum. I wanted to know more and help people.
“In my mother’s lifetime it was very much accepted as, ‘Oh, well. I’m old, and that’s what happens’.” Felicity is concerned at the lack of awareness about osteoporosis, even though tests and medication are available.
“I can’t remember any of my friends saying, ‘Have you been tested for osteoporosis?’ It isn’t one of the things people do so that’s why this campaign is so important.
“So thank you to the Sunday Express for putting out the message and just being so positive about helping people. Knowledge is power.”
Speaking of her mother, who ran a touring theatre company in India along with her father Geoffrey, Felicity recalls how osteoporosis took its toll.
“She was very healthy all her life. She was lively and agile and did yoga way before it was fashionable.”
But she continued: “There was a definite shrinking. When you went to hug her you’d miss. She did shrink quite exceptionally and that was the impact of the osteoporosis.
“It was a shame because I think she would have very much liked to run around until she dropped. I certainly think she became more conscious of a change in her mobility and she automatically stopped moving as much.
“Then you don’t go out and that is what happened with my mother.
“She went from someone who was very energetic and did yoga and walked upright to having the symptoms of osteoporosis and getting smaller and smaller.
“My idea of hell on Earth is not to be able to go out, or not to be able to do things physically for myself.”
Faced with these fears Felicity, who became a grandmother at 50, recalls: “I was 50 for my first grandchild and I started doing bone density exercises around then. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I won’t be able to pick them up out of the car as some of them are big and heavy’ and so I took action and started doing more exercise, as I’d seen how sad it was for my mother.”
Felicity declares herself to be a grandmother of 13, including two children from one of her two sons, her late sister Jennifer’s grandchildren and those of late partner Michael Rudman.
Felicity has not been diagnosed with osteoporosis but still stays healthy by walking with her Schnauzer puppy Rufus, doing yoga and helping with her grandchildren.
She explained: “I have bone density scans and that’s because I want a warning ahead if I need to up my exercise and change my diet. Muscle mass helps bone density. I do regular exercise and walking, which is very important, and jogging slowly.”
Felicity, who was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010, added: “As you get older one mustn’t think, ‘I will just sit down. I’m too old to do that’. I say this to myself, ‘Come on, stop it. Don’t sit down’.
“We are all living longer. Let’s enjoy it. To actually just say, ‘I am going to be super fit at 80 or 90 or whatever I choose to be. I‘m not giving in’.”
‘I live with chronic pain…there should be more awareness’
Sarah, 50, from Woodcote,Oxforshire, is married with two sons, aged 18 and 15, and a 10-year-old daughter. She says osteoporosis has had a huge impact on her mental health:
“In December 2020, I fell over while I was walking. It wasn’t a big fall, but it resulted in a fractured shoulder, which I’d broken in four places.
“At the time a private physiotherapist encouraged me to request a DEXA scan, explaining that due to early menopause and a severe fracture from a simple fall, I might be at risk of low bone density.
“I had my scan in June 2021. One day I bent down to put some washing in the machine and felt a strange sensation in my back, as though everything was ‘out of place’, then severe pain in my back. I received an osteoporosis diagnosis over the phone, but when I asked if my back pain was linked to this I was told it wasn’t.
“My pain was so severe I could hardly stand or walk and I couldn’t lie on a bed.
“My GP kept dismissing it as muscular, but eventually referred me to a specialist. I was given an MRI which showed I’d suffered eight spinal fractures as a result of osteoporosis. I live with chronic pain and walking is difficult. I never thought I could get osteoporosis at my age. When I first started fracturing, aged 48, I’d been a busy working mum-of-three. It was not a health issue that ever entered my head.
“I felt old before my time. It was just awful. There should be more awareness about protecting bone health from an earlier age. I didn’t have a clue.”
● Two-thirds of people who need osteoporosis drugs are not getting them
● Fracture Liaison Services reduce the risk of a second break by up to 40 percent
● More than four in 10 in England do not have access to an FLS
● Fractures caused by osteoporosis affect half of women over 50 and one in five men
● 70 percent of spinal fractures never come to medical attention, meaning 2.6 million people are suffering
● Spinal fractures are a main driver for people leaving the workforce – and also a red flag for a future hip fracture
● Total FLS coverage for people over 50 would prevent 74,000 fractures, including 31,000 hip fractures over five years
● The cost would see £3.26 returned for every £1 invested
● Give all over-50s access to dedicated bone specialists
● £30m extra investment into services for England, Wales and Scotland
● A Fracture Tsar appointed in each of Britain’s nations
HOW CAN YOU HELP
Write to your MP or other elected representative and ask them to join the list of supporters for our Better Bones campaign to persuade the four governments across the UK to improve the population coverage and quality of FLS.
The Royal Osteoporosis Society has created a template letter that you can use to ask them to support the campaign. You can find it on the ROS website.
The ROS has also generated a map to reveal the FLS ‘postcode lottery’ across the UK.
If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can write to both your MP and your devolved representative.
Politicians, whether in the UK Parliament, Welsh Senedd, Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly, all have a significant influence over health policy and priorities.
The more Parliamentarians who support our campaign, the greater our chance of success in our goal of improving the population coverage and quality of FLS.
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