Calls grow for specialist clinics for all over-50s to fight ‘silent killer’

A growing army of MPs, Peers, medics, charities and business leaders are backing our fight to end the death and disability caused by osteoporosis.

Since its launch in June, the Sunday Express Better Bones campaign has triggered an overwhelming response, with 236 politicians joining forces with us to demand action. And 791 medics have signed an open letter calling for change.

This week the Federation of Small Businesses also pledged its support, saying preventative measures against the “silent bone disease” would boost the UK’s “economic vitality” by keeping people in work.

Many of the UK’s leading charities have also come out in support, including Parkinson’s UK and Coeliac UK.

The Sunday Express has teamed up with the Royal Osteoporosis Society to launch the Better Bones campaign.

It 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.

READ MORE: Union leaders and bosses back Sunday Express Better Bones Campaign

A “postcode lottery” means some areas of the UK are not covered, and others are lacking in resources.

We are calling for all over-50s to have access to the dedicated bone specialists at these clinics, and for a Fracture Tsar to be appointed to each British nation.

This package of measures would save 8,000 lives over five years and cut NHS spending by £665million. Some 3.5 million people in the UK suffer with the condition, but most are undiagnosed. If undetected, osteoporosis leads to bone fractures.

Half of women and a fifth of men over 50 will suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis. One in four who suffers a hip fracture dies in a year.

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The Federation’s Tina McKenzie said: “This is more than a health initiative – it’s a matter of economic vitality. We need to address the increased numbers of those who have left the workforce as employees, self-employed or small business owners themselves due to sickness. This campaign is one of those steps.”

Andrew Selous, Conservative MP for SW Bedfordshire, said: “I fully support the campaign. It can play a serious role in helping the Prime Minister deliver on his key pledge of cutting NHS waiting times.

“Breaking a bone is the second highest cause of adults occupying emergency beds.

“Half a million people suffer fractures every year, requiring valuable A&E, operation time, rehabilitation and social care.

“Fracture Liaison Clinics can diagnose people early, so people’s first break can be their last. Saving 750,000 bed days would be an enormous boost for the NHS.”

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Dr Rowan Wathes from Parkinson’s UK, said: “People with Parkinson’s are twice as likely to have osteoporosis and fractures, yet our data shows only 60 per cent of
people are assessed for fracture risk.”

Hilary Croft, of Coeliac UK, said: “Not many people are aware that osteoporosis is a possible complication of undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease.

“We strongly support the Better Bones campaign raising awareness and improving care for this important subject.”

And former culture secretary Lord Chris Smith said: “Far too many fractures happen as people get older that could be prevented. Let’s do better than this.

After falling ill with bronchitis, Jenni Kelly thought she had pulled a muscle in her back from continuous coughing.

Her GP told her it was just muscular pain and would go away. She was prescribed cough medicine and told to exercise. But she said: “The pain wouldn’t go away.

“It was severe. I was doing what the doctor told me and trying to exercise, but the pain just got worse.”

She asked to see a physiotherapist but the waiting time on the NHS was so long she paid to go private.

By this time Jenni, 72, from Benfleet, Essex, who had previously been very fit and active, could barely move.

The physio was so concerned she referred her to a private spinal consultant who then sent her for an MRI.

It revealed she had fractured five lumbar – lower spine – vertebrae. And after the MRI she had a Dexa scan which revealed she had osteoporosis.

She said: “I have worked hard to recover. But backache, poor balance and digestive issues are part of my daily life now. I was angry it had taken such a long time – and the only reason it was picked up was not because of the NHS but my own persistence.

“The doctor could have asked me about bone health – my mother was on medication for osteoporosis.

“I could have been given a scan which would have identified this and potentially caught it earlier.”

Ministers and the NHS Chief Executive need to set a clear expectation that every hospital should provide a quality Fracture Liaison Service. 

This is a no-brainer. 

We need national leadership in the NHS to get local health leaders to see it. 

And we need a Fracture Prevention Tsar to get the message out to local Trusts and hospitals, so this “postcode lottery” can be ended. Fractures caused by osteoporosis are the fourth most harmful disease when it comes to early death and disability.  Yet people with osteoporosis have no national champion.  There’s a long list of national leads in NHS England for virtually every condition – from long Covid to the flu, from tobacco addiction to eye care.

The fact fracture prevention is not on that list sends a message to decision-makers in NHS Trusts that it’s not a priority. 

Hospitals are good at fixing the immediate problem when someone breaks a bone.

But they are not so good at diagnosing osteoporosis so we can prevent a further break.

Often that person comes back in five years with another fracture, usually more serious and life-changing. 

It doesn’t need to be like this.

We think ahead to prevent heart attacks, yet a hip fracture is a heart attack-level event.

A Fracture Liaison Service is a one-stop-shop for patients when they have their first break.  Specialists will navigate them through the health system to diagnose their risk of future fractures and put in place a package of preventative measures. People get the drug therapies and advice they need.

Created here in Britain, the model has been copied in 54 countries. So it’s a bitter irony that access to these services is so poor in the country where they were created.

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