THE Duchess of Cornwall’s much publicised appearance on The Archers last month, in her capacity as president of the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS), drew national attention to the serious degenerative bone disease which is mainly associated with post-menopausal women.
It is a cause close to her heart because the painful, incurable ailment hastened the death of her own mother Rosalind.
It is now nearly six years since the Duchess (of Rothesay as she is known in Scotland) fulfilled one of her first official engagements after her marriage to the Prince of Wales by officially opening the £100,000 DEXA scanner at the Borders General Hospital.
That state-of-the-art equipment, which measures bone density and hence leads to early diagnosis, benefits around 1,000 Borders patients a year.
But as Dr Andrew Pearson, the consultant radiologist who spearheaded the seven-year fundraising campaign which preceded installation, revealed this week, the Borders General Hospital is still firmly in the vanguard of improving the lot of osteoporosis sufferers.
“Following the recent decision by the board of NHS Borders to authorise the use of an innovative new treatment, the first group of patients in the Borders has just commenced on the twice-yearly injection of the recently approved antibody Denosumab, which attacks the protein that overwhelms the body’s natural defence against bone destruction,” explained Dr Pearson.
Osteoporosis is usually treated successfully with bone protecting tablets, such as Fosamax, but Dr Pearson said there were sufferers who did not respond and required injections.
“Most patients being treated this way have an annual injection for around three years, but, until now, there has been no satisfactory alternative for that small group of people for whom this is also unsuitable,” he told us.
“The introduction of Denosumab means it is now possible to offer that group good protection from future fractures.
“Although traditionally affecting women after menopause, osteoporosis is now recognised as a condition which affects both men and women of all ages, including children.
It leads to an increased risk of fractures, including those of the hip and spine, but while the DEXA scanner allows us to identify those who need to be offered treatment, none of the treatments is completely without difficulties.”
Thus, Dr Pearson’s team at the BGH has led the way in developing compliance clinics at which the osteoporosis specialist nurse Elaine Tait, with consultant support, ensures patients are given the most suitable treatment to reduce the risk of fractures, with a rigorous follow-up procedure to deal with difficulties which may crop up.
Mr Pearson said the team has also taken a lead in running twice-yearly public meetings for recently diagnosed patients, with specialists on hand to offer advice and answer questions.
“Another Borders first is the bone health events at local schools where pupils hear about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise in looking after their bones,” said Dr Pearson.
Last year, as reported in these columns, Borders won a competition organised by NOS. The prize was a visit to Earlston High of Strictly Come Dancing star Camilla Dallerup who taught students fun ways to dance to help build strong, healthy bones.
Earlier this year, the work of the osteoporosis team at the Borders General Hospital was acknowledged nationally with the appointment of Dr Pearson and Elaine Tait to the osteoporosis working group of SIGN (the Scottish Collegiate Guidelines Network) which is recognised worldwide and frames guidelines for treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.
The NOS runs a Borders local support group.
For details contact the charity’s Scottish co-ordinator Anne Simpson by phoning 01698 811171.