DO NOT PUBLISH - Audit of fragility fracture prevention services calls for improvements in patient care

Category: Clinical Outcomes Publication Team, Medical Directors Blog, Patient & Public Involvement, Quality Improvement & Development

A report published today by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) finds that while more fracture patients are receiving a bone health check by a Fracture Liaison Service (FLS), a greater standard of care for all ‘fragility’ fracture patients is required. This echoes estimations that implementing effective secondary fracture prevention within the NHS could help prevent over 50,000 fractures over the next 5 years. 

View full report here

The report, Leading FLS improvement: Secondary fracture prevention in the NHS, from the RCP’s Falls, Fragility and Fracture Audit Programme (FFFAP) finds that despite fracture liaison services (FLSs) being an effective way to prevent further fragility fractures, access to an FLS and the quality of care provided depends too much on where a patient lives.

There are more than half a million fragility fractures in the UK each year, including around 79,000 hip fractures, at a cost to the NHS of £4.3 billion a year. Individuals over the age of 50 who experience fragility fractures, the majority of whom are post-menopausal women, are more likely to go on to suffer more serious bone breaks, such as hip fractures, as they age.

 Nearly half of all fracture patients identified are seen by an FLS, although this also remains very variable depending on each service.

The audit found that 67% of patients were assessed by an FLS within 90 days. This, however, varies widely depending on the NHS Trust, with less than a quarter of FLSs able to assess over 95% of patients within 90 days. In comparison, a similar number (28%) of FLSs saw less than half of patients in the same time frame.

 The report’s findings and recommendations include:

There is a marked variability in the proportion of patients receiving recognised standards of care:

  • some FLSs are seeing a lower number of patients than elsewhere in the country, as well as identifying less vertebral fractures than elsewhere
  •  More patients are receiving a falls assessment, now at 40% compared to the previous figure of 32%.
  • Only 41% of patients who were prescribed anti-osteoporosis medication were monitored by 12-16 weeks post fracture. The report recommends that more work should be done to improve monitoring of fracture patients.
  • National coverage of secondary fracture prevention using FLS remains low with around just a third of all acute trusts participating. The majority of trusts that did not provide data do not have a FLS, contributing further to the regional variance in care a patient can receive.
  • CCGs and LHBs without an FLS should actively work with their local NHS staff to develop fund and implement a service.i

Dr Kassim Javaid, FLS-DB clinical lead said:

Fragility fractures are very common in those over the age of 50, with the number of older people projected to experience a hip fracture expected to rise by 65% over the next 20 years. These fractures can be a potentially life-changing experience for those who suffer them and it is therefore hugely important that patients receive effective treatment and care to help ensure they do not suffer further fractures later on in life.

Being able to potentially reduce the number of preventable fractures by over 50,000 would represent a substantial reduction in emergency admissions to our already overstretched hospitals and help to lessen the demand on social care at a time when these services have never been so pressured. It would also provide a huge benefit for patients and their families and carers in reducing the stress and suffering that fractures so often cause. We have an opportunity to close this gap in bone health care and we should work together to achieve it.

Claire Severgini, National Osteoporosis Society chief executive said:

We hear far too often from people with osteoporosis about the devastating effects fractures have on their lives and their families, and it is vital that we place the prevention of fragility fractures as an absolute priority for all health services.

The work of the FLS-DB is very important in showing the many benefits of having a properly integrated fracture liaison service. Receiving great care should not depend on where you live and more work needs to be done in extending coverage of FLSs across the country.

The Fracture Liaison Services Database (FLS-DB) is the only national patient-level audit of the quality of FLSs in the world. The report is the first annual review of services provided by FLSs covering the identification, assessment, treatment and monitoring of people over 50, who have suffered a bone fragility fracture from a low, standing height fall.

The audit measures primarily against NICE technology assessments and guidance on osteoporosis, and the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) clinical standards for FLSs.