GPs not identifying osteoporosis sparks fears of brittle bone epidemic

GPs fail to identify osteoporosis sparking fears of a hidden epidemic of brittle bones

  • MPs have said too many people learn they have the condition only after a fall
  • Around 3.5million people suffer from it in the UK, including half of women
  • Broken bones caused by osteoporosis are extremely painful and debilitating

Tens of thousands of elderly patients suffer life-changing fractures every year because GPs are failing to identify those with weak bones, a parliamentary inquiry has found.

Family doctors are well placed to diagnose and treat osteoporosis – which causes brittle bones – but too many people learn they have it only after suffering a fall, the cross-party group of MPs and peers said.

The inquiry, led by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Osteoporosis and Bone Health, recommends a national screening programme for the condition, which affects 3.5million people in the UK, including half of women and a fifth of men over 50. But only 39 per cent of people with one of three major risk factors have received a bone health assessment.

Risk factors include early menopause, long-term use of certain drugs, low body mass index and heavy drinking.

Osteoporosis affects 3.5million people in the UK, including half of women and a fifth of men over 50. Broken hips, wrists and spinal vertebrae are common in people with the condition

Judith Cummins MP, chairman of the APPG, said: ‘When it comes to osteoporosis, the simple truth is that we’re spending money in the wrong place – managing the costs of failure rather than preventing harm.’

Broken bones caused by osteoporosis are extremely painful and can lead to life-changing disability that robs people of their independence.

A quarter of people die within a year of suffering a hip fracture, the most serious osteoporosis-related injury.

There is no systematic national approach to screening for osteoporosis in the UK, with decisions instead made by individual clinicians on a case-by-case basis.

Data from Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), Health Boards, and Trusts shows a ‘vacuum’ when it comes to oversight of standards of care.

The APPG received Freedom of Information responses from 85 of the 127 health bodies it contacted.

Some 74 per cent of these respondents were not aware what proportion of GP practices in their area had a process for systematically identifying patients at high risk of fracture.

Ninety per cent were not aware if there was an identified clinician with a special interest in osteoporosis in any of their practices.

And 97 per cent did not hold information about five year reviews of osteoporosis treatment, despite it having the second lowest rate of treatment adherence of any long-term condition.

The Inquiry’s separate analysis of 545 responses to its call for evidence found a postcode lottery of care is having a ‘stark impact’ on the public.

Even patients who do receive a diagnosis report feeling ‘abandoned’, with little or no monitoring or follow-up from medics, as well as poor awareness of the condition.

Only 48 per cent of people were confident they were on the right medication, while 11 per cent had to resort to private healthcare to get the tests they needed.

Once identified, osteoporosis is treatable with drugs that have been shown to be effective in increasing bone strength and reducing the risk of fractures.

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