Scanner helps cut NHS costs to the bone

Despite the region’s aging population, the number of Borderers suffering hip fractures has “fallen substantially in recent years”.

And that, according to Dr Andrew Pearson, is in no small way due to the work of the small specialist unit he leads at the Borders General Hospital.

“It’s obviously excellent news for the patients themselves, but it also saves the taxpayer a lot of money with a single hip fracture, which nearly always requires surgery and in many cases replacement, costing our health and social care services around £40,000,” said consultant radiologist Dr Pearson.

He was commenting as the Borders Osteoporosis and Fracture Liaison Service, which hosts clinics at the BGH and also offers treatment at community hospitals, is about to enter its 10th year of operation.

It was back in May, 2006, that the Duchess of Rothesay, in one of the her first official royal engagements, opened the unit and unveiled a state-of-the-art DEXA scanner which measures bone density and is a key tool in the early detection of the progressive bone disease osteoporosis.

Since then, around 1,000 Borderers a year have benefited from the scanner and a range of available treatments.

“Our service is part of the radiology department which puts us in an ideal position to identify at-risk patients, especially those with spinal or vertebral fractures who are often unaware when they occur,” said Dr Pearson who spent seven years leading the fundraising campaign for the £100,000 scanner.

“Anyone over the age of 50 who sustains a fracture after a fall or minor injury should be assessed for osteoporosis and, if the bones are weak, then preventative treatment is offered.

“Depending on what is detected, treatments can range from taking a weekly tablet for up to five years, a small injection every six months or an annual intravenous infusion.

“The choice of treatment depends on each patient’s individual circumstances as assessed by either GPs, who are fully engaged in what we do, or at our clinics.”

“It is gratifying to know that health boards from other parts of the UK have shown an interest in how we operate and are attempting to introduce fracture liaison services in their areas.”

Dr Pearson, who runs the service with specialist nurse Karen Graham and support secretary Carol Gordon, believes more Borderers than ever before are taking on board the message that lifestyle choices – cutting out smoking and excess alcohol, taking regular weightbearing exercise, eating calcium rich foods and safely enjoying sunshine – can fend off osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures in later life.

The National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) has a Borders Support Group which welcomes new members.

Contact Karen or Carol on 01896 826223 for details or alternatively call the NOS Helpline for free support and info on 0845 4500 230.