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Broken promises in Autumn Statement will “blight tens of thousands of lives, while undermining trust in Parliament”

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22 Nov 2023

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement has been a betrayal of disabled people, following the announcement of measures to force them into work by cutting benefits.

Senior Parliamentarians and the Royal Osteoporosis Society have today criticised the Government, as Ministers have broken their promises to fund Fracture Liaison Services (FLS) in the Autumn Statement.

Fractures caused by osteoporosis are the fourth greatest contributor to premature death and disability in the UK.  Half of women over 50 will suffer fractures, as well as one in five men.  There are safe, effective therapies to protect bones, but 90,000 people every year are missing out on life-saving drugs because of the absence of FLS in half of NHS Trusts. 

This postcode lottery is leading to a revolving door of fractures in hospitals, as thousands suffer preventable hip and spinal fractures which could have been avoided with therapy.  

FLS is the world standard for early diagnosis of osteoporosis, used in 55 developed countries.  Since June, the ROS has been highlighting the critical role of FLS and campaigning for universal access and improved quality.  The Better Bones campaign has attracted the support of 250 Parliamentarians, seven Royal Medical Colleges and 43 charities, as well as business leaders and trade unions.

In August, Minister Maria Caulfield promised to “explore ways to establish more Fracture Liaison Services and say more later in the year”.  Officials admit no announcement is planned.

The following week, Government Minister Lord Evans said in a Lords debate:

“We are proposing to announce, in the forthcoming Autumn Statement, a package of measures to expand the provision of Fracture Liaison Services and improve their current quality.  NHS England is also setting up a Fracture Liaison Service expert steering group."

In a bizarre turn of events, the Autumn Statement promise was retracted the next day, despite thousands of people with osteoporosis having watched the debate and celebrated.  Since then, concern is mounting because:

  • The Autumn Statement contained no mention of FLS. 
  • NHS England has also confirmed that no Expert Steering Group has been set up - or indeed is planned. 
  • This outcome follows complaints made by ROS in July that Ministers had misleadingly claimed that FLS had already been “prioritised” in the Elective Care Recovery Plan, when the services were not mentioned a single time. 
  • Osteoporosis has been excluded from the Advisory groups and working groups of Government’s Major Conditions Strategy, despite being the fourth worst cause of disability and premature death.

Failing to deliver on Government’s FLS commitment is a false economy, since over the next year the healthcare system will waste £88m on preventable fractures, including 150,000 hospital bed days.  Fractures amongst adults are the second greatest filler of hospital beds, showing the urgent need for action. 

If the Government had honoured its promise, we could have prevented 74,000 fractures over the next five years, including 31,000 life-threatening hip fractures.  We would be able to free up 750,000 hospital bed days and save 8,000 lives over the same period. 

Every year, 81,000 people of working age suffer fractures due to osteoporosis, with a third quitting their job due to long-term pain and disability. 

Craig Jones, Chief Executive of the Royal Osteoporosis Society, said:

Every year, late diagnosis forces 25,000 people with osteoporosis to quit their jobs due to the excruciating pain of fractures.  They describe feeling thrown on the scrapheap, thanks to the woeful absence of modern diagnostic services in half of NHS Trusts.  Government promised to invest in Fracture Liaison Services today to get the 90,000 people missing life-saving drugs the treatment they need to stay healthy and employed.  But they broke that promise, rubbing salt into the wounds by cutting these people’s benefits instead.”

Lord Black of Brentwood, APPG Chair, whose late mother’s life was devastated by osteoporosis said:

"The Government is unwilling to make what is in reality a tiny investment of £27 million per annum in fracture liaison services - despite the clear economic and health benefits of doing so.  This  callous decision will blight the lives of tens of thousands of people with pain and disability, and put many people at risk of premature death. Even in the medium term it will cost the taxpayer dear as the NHS has to pick up the pieces from fractures that need never have happened. This is a bizarre and heartless decision, which will shatter lives."

Lord Shinkwin, who has lived with Brittle Bones since birth and who sits on the Conservative benches, said:

“As someone with a bone condition myself, I’m calling on the Secretary of State to intervene. Only she can ensure the Royal Osteoporosis Society’s widely-supported, common sense call for a cost-effective investment in Fracture Liaison Services happens. The Government says it wants value for money for the taxpayer. Great. They should prove it by not making a damaging false economy. At a time when some disabled people will be worrying whether welfare reforms mean they’ll lose their benefits, it’s crucial the Government is sensitive to the risk of a negative narrative about disabled people taking hold.” 

To find out more about the campaign, visit our campaign with us page.

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