News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Excuse me, which charity does your ribbon represent?

There are only a limited number of colours, and combinations of them, but there are many health and disability causes. That’s the reason why, for each color, there are a number of charities that use it for their publicity and fundraising activities.

Just take the orange ribbon as an example. We know that it is the colour adopted for multiple sclerosis in many countries. Additionally, orange is also used by these causes:

Confusing, isn’t it? Including MS, that’s 14 separate causes to have chosen the orange as the colour of their official ribbon.

Colours started with red

It started more than 25 years ago. The red awareness ribbon for HIV/AIDS was launched by the AIDS Ribbon Project at the 45th Annual Tony Awards ceremony on June 2, 1991.

Yes, the red ribbon was, apparently, the first ever ribbon symbol. And that led to all the rest, including the orange ribbon for MS and the renowned pink one for breast cancer awareness.

Mind you, there s nothing new about wearing coloured symbols. For example, each political party has its own colour. Parties use their colours for promotional material and election rosettes worn by party workers. What’s more, William Shakespeare wrote about coloured symbols that people wore.

In the famous English playwright’s classic Othello (Act iv, scene 3), Desdemona refer to an early version of the song “All round my hat, I wears a green willow”. The lyrics say: “If anyone should ask, the reason why I wears it, tell them that my true love is far, far away”.

Today, we have so many charities, and other causes, all trying to raise money and awareness. And there are too few colours to go round.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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MS takes centre stage on television soap



First, I have a confession to make, I don’t watch soap operas on television but the fact is they do attract huge and often passionate audiences.

They develop different story lines from time to time, and the newest such story in one leading TV soap in the UK is one of its main characters being diagnosed with relapsing MS.

In a recent episode of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks soap opera, set in a fictional suburb of the English city Chester, character Nancy Osborne met with her neurologist to hear the results of an MRI scan. In previous months, viewers had seen the character, played by actress Jessica Fox, experience a series of unexplained symptoms including weakness, tremor and spasms.

Nancy is a young mum in her late 20s who’s been involved in numerous main storylines since 2005. She’s married to Darren Osborne and is the deputy headteacher at Hollyoaks High.

Doubts have already been expressed about how well the television company will treat the story. Some comments on Facebook questioned if such a serious disease would be handled in the right way and if it would be true to life, but I am reassured that the programme makers are trying their very best.

The country’s leading multiple sclerosis charity, the MS Society, has confirmed that it has been consulted and has cooperated with the programme makers.

On its website, the charity says: “The scriptwriters got in touch with us to ask for advice about MS. We were happy to give them accurate information about MS and its symptoms, but we know it’s up to Hollyoaks to decide how they use our feedback.


Kirsty and Lottie (Pic: Kirsty, via MS Society).


“We also introduced the scriptwriters to people with MS who shared their own experiences of the condition. One of the people we asked was Kirsty, who’s a 32-year-old accountant and mum to four-year-old Lottie. She was joined by her close friends, sisters Kat Garner and Vicki Bithell, whose parents have MS.”

Kirsty told the MS Society: “This was the first time I opened up to such a large group of people about how I feel about my MS.

“At one point, I got quite choked up, but we really wanted to show what it’s like living with MS and how it feels to watch someone you love battle often debilitating symptoms every day.”

It will be interesting to see how the storyline progresses and how well Nancy can cope with living with MS.

strap-new is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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MS Society Award Nominations: We All Are Stars


Nominations are being sought for individuals and groups for the U.K.’s MS Society Awards 2017. Organizers say the awards will recognize the stars of the MS community and their contributions during 2016.

While not wishing to denigrate the awards in any way, I cannot help but feel that all of us who have, or are affected by, multiple sclerosis are stars in our own ways.

Everyone who is an MS warrior and determined never to give up is a star. Every family member caring for someone with MS is a star. Every volunteer who raises money for the cause is a star.

These awards will not find any stars better than our own, but the awards should gain some well-deserved publicity for the MS Society.

awardsCategories for which nominations are now open are:

MS Society group. This award is open to any MS Society group across the U.K.

Carer. The care and support provided by this person, who will be a family member, partner or friend, will have made a real and positive difference to the life of someone with MS.

Young Carer (under 18). The care provided by this young person, who will be a family member or friend, will have made a real and positive difference to the life of someone with MS.

Campaigner. The campaigner of the year award recognizes an inspiring individual who has campaigned to raise awareness of MS or improve policy or services for people affected by MS.

Digital media. This award is aimed at anyone (individual, team or organization) who has delivered outstanding and innovative results through digital media for the benefit of the MS community.

Employer. Judges are looking for organizations that create an excellent working environment for staff and show consistent consideration and awareness of the fluctuating nature of MS.

Fundraiser. Your nominee may have taken part in an exciting one-off activity, or have shown commitment to long-term fundraising for the MS Society over 2016. Your submission should include the amount of money they’ve raised, as well as details of how many people were involved in organizing and/or taking part in the fundraising activity.

Young Fundraiser (under 18). It’s inspiring to see young people getting involved and making a positive difference to the world. We want to recognize their achievements and encourage them to continue to be a force for change in the future.

Media. Nominations for this category will need to show how media coverage has been positive and accurate. Journalists should demonstrate how their work has impacted its audience and/or provide links to the story.

Professional. This award is open to all health and social care professionals whose work centers around people affected by MS, and improving their access to treatment, care and support.

Political Supporter. This award recognizes the work of political supporters in seeking to improve access to responsive treatment, care and support for people affected by MS. This includes all politicians who held office in 2016 across the U.K, from local to national level.

Research. This category recognizes world class research projects that are working hard to beat MS. These projects must be based in the UK.

Volunteer. This award is open to individuals or groups of MS Society volunteers. These submissions may address one or more of the following: Information, education, therapies, support, social events, advocacy, transport or anything else.

Nomination forms and guidance notes can be found on the MS Society website.

All nominations must be received by 5 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2017.

This article, written by me, was first published by Multiple Sclerosis News Today.

strap-new is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Are you newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis?

Just the other day, I drew attention to information available for anyone newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As examples, I gave details of literature available in both the USA and the UK.

All well and good but, besides the MS Society and the MS Trust, Britain has the luxury of having a third national organization. This is called MS-UK and I left it out of my post.

ms-ukMS-UK is not so well known as the other two but it still has a role to play.

MS-UK was established in 1993, and is a national charity dedicated to empowering people with multiple sclerosis to make the most of today, and live life to the full.

It says it puts people affected by MS at the heart of its work. It provides high quality, professional services to support people living with multiple sclerosis, and listens to people affected by the disease.

The MS-UK website says: “Around 100,000 people in the UK have multiple sclerosis, and we are here to make sure that each person affected by MS has choice, control and independence.

We support anyone, which includes carers, families, and professionals, who may be affected by multiple sclerosis. So, whether you have a question about yourself or someone else, you can ask us. There are no taboo subjects at MS-UK, and we are an independent charity, so we are able to provide completely unbiased information.

Talking of information, the charity offers its own support for the newly disabled. It is a 40-page book, titled Newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? And it is available to download, absolutely free of charge, here.

It is a well-written and easy to read publication that sets out information in a clear and simple style.

It covers the full range of questions that anyone newly diagnosed may have, starting with ‘what is happening to me?’.

It talks about a patient’s healthcare team, getting the most out of appointments and treatment that may be received.

It touches on lifestyle and wellbeing before tackling the issue of talking about having the disease, such as discussing with family and friends as well as that ever present problem ‘Who should I tell?’

Support is vital section, including welfare benefits, practical help and answering the question ‘What is there for me?’, and details support available from MS-UK itself.

Finally, it includes a Symptom diary that new patients can use to keep track of what symptoms they experience and when.


new strap



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World MS Day: ‘MS doesn’t stop me’


People with MS were challenged yesterday, as part of World MS Day 2016, to celebrate all the ways that they maintain their independence and get on with their lives.

By sharing examples of independence from lots of different countries, the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation set out to inspire people to challenge perceptions of what people with MS can and cannot do.

Here’s just a few examples received from around the world:

MS doesn’t stop me …

… applying my skills

I work part-time at a computer centre. I can choose the hours I work and manage efficiently with limited energy. Being able to continue working makes me feel independent.

… staying active

Kayaking has been massively important to me. It has not only helped my physical rehabilitation; it has aided my mental wellbeing. Without kayaking, I am not sure my body would be as strong as it is now.

… running my business

Everyone at my workplace knows that I have MS, including my clients. I’ve had to become a role model in my community because there has been no one else for me to imitate.

… having the determination to succeed

It’s important to have dreams. I’m in my last year of high school and I imagine myself becoming a successful interior designer. When I think of something I want to do, I stay focused and determined until I succeed.

being part of the family

I live in a centre which provides care for people with progressive MS. Since moving here, I am so much more independent. Now that my husband is no longer responsible for my care, I’m just part of the family and we can do nice things together.

… me empowering other people

I’ve always loved sport. Before being diagnosed with MS I was a keen footballer. I now coach a wheelchair basketball team. The most fulfilling part of it is helping other people build their confidence and find a sense of achievement.

… learning new things

I used to be a bank manager, but now I use my time to study new topics like history, astrology and painting. MS has given me the chance to do more for myself, gain knowledge and become a better person.

spending time with my daughters

Nine years ago I was diagnosed with primary progressive MS. While my wife is at work, I take care of the household duties and look after our daughters when they finish school. Continuing to feel useful is very important.

… having inner strength

I was diagnosed with MS when my children were very young, which was really hard, but I didn’t let it drag me down. MS has shown me how strong I can be.

… living my life the way I want to

Catheters have made a big difference to my independence. I can relax about doing things like going out to meet friends… It’s also a bit of a party trick. I pull it out of my handbag and get people to guess what it is!

seeing the beauty in life

We are examples of how people are living with MS. We are people on crutches, people in wheelchairs and we’re all living and working. The world doesn’t end because we have MS. We show people how they can continue to live with MS.

… getting out and about

My wheelchair is my constant companion and my assistant, helping me get from A to B. I rely on it to get me around, but I have never seen it as an embarrassment or a sign that says: “now I am disabled”.

… taking pride in my home

The little things I can do at home make me happy. I sweep the floor, dust the furniture and wash the dishes. It’s funny because I’d never done any housework before, but now I really enjoy it! I’ve learnt a lot from my MS.



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Now more Tory MPs face disability charities’ anger

zac_goldsmith_037_copy_edited tania_770x344_edited

Further to yesterday’s post about Conservative MP Kit Malthouse being told by Andover and Rural branch of the MS Society that it no longer wanted him as their patron, other MPs are now feeling the heat from charitable organisations with which they are aligned.

The MPs concerned, like Mr Malthouse, voted in favour of cuts to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) that will see many thousands of people with disabilities being new claimants of ESA, lose £30 a week, compared with current claimants in the WRAG (Work-Related Activity group), from April next year.

The Conservatives argue that stripping disabled people of financial security will incentivise them to find work quicker.

A number of Conservative MPs are coming under increasing pressure to resign their own positions as patrons for disability groups following their vote to cut disability benefits.

London Tory mayoral candidate and MP Zak Goldsmith (pictured above, left) is also facing a call from Richmond AID, a local disability charity, to explain his decision to take money off some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

Lucy Byrne, chief executive of Richmond AID said in a Tweet: “Richmond AID believes that the cuts to ESA which are due to be implemented on 1st April 2017 will have a severe and detrimental impact on the lives of disabled people and will make it more difficult for people to find work.

“It must be recognised that being a disabled person means higher general expenses, for example to keep warm, travel to activities, participate in the community and travel to medical appointments. For people that are close to getting back to the workplace, add to that the cost of taxis to interviews, smart clothes for work and internet access.

“We believe this cut moves disabled people further away from the workplace and increases the social isolation of people that are already vulnerable and experiencing barriers while seeking employment.

“We are shocked and disappointed to find that both our local MPs here in the borough of Richmond (Tania Mathias and Zac Goldsmith) have voted for this cut and plan to invite both MPs to our offices to explain the impact this will have on disabled people.    Lucy Byrne, chief executive of Richmond AID.”

Dr Taina Mathias (pictured above, right), an NHS doctor, is Conservative MP for Twickenham. Zak Goldsmith is Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, and is his party’s candidate in the London Mayoral election.


MP told ‘We don’t want you as patron’ by MS Society

andover_kit_malthouse  ms logo   Kit Malthouse MP not wanted as patron of Andover MS Society.

Not being ones to let the grass grow under their feet, members of Andover’s branch of the MS Society has reacted quickly to their patron voting for cuts to disability benefits.

Regular readers may recall that, on Friday, I posted a blog on the issue of the patron, local MP Kit Malthouse, voting for the £30 cut to ESA Work-Related Activity Group new claimants from April next year. That blog (if you have not read it, you can follow this link: brought howls of complaint against Mr Malthouse and demands for him to be removed from his honorary role.

I said his vote in the House of Commons and his role as patron of the MS Society branch were incompatible as the society has been actively campaigning against the cut.

Andover MS Society obviously feels the same way as it has now asked the MP to step down from being the branch’s patron. Donna Birch, branch Chair, explained: “Due to recent events we no longer feel that Kit Malthouse is a suitable patron, so we have asked him to step down from this role.”

So far, Mr Malthouse has not responded to my request for a comment.

Following my first blog on this subject, the MS Society UK commented: “Hi Ian, thankyou for posting this. We have over 280 branches across the UK, some of which ask local politicians to act as patrons or presidents, which can help raise their profile. These are not formal roles within the MS Society.

“We would hope, given Mr Malthouse has accepted this role with our Andover branch, he would understand why reducing ESA by £30 a week will make life harder for people with MS who come to claim this benefit. We fundamentally disagree with Mr Malthouse’s position and we’re deeply disappointed that the Government has ignored the concerns of organisations like the MS Society and voted for the changes to ESA.

“For more information on what the changes to ESA mean for people with MS, please follow this link”


Home Alone : How young is too young to leave?

Home Alone was a box office hit about a young child accidentally left behind at Christmas.

Home Alone was a box office hit about a young child accidentally left behind at Christmas.

Many of us must have seen the 1990 American Christmas comedy Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a boy who is mistakenly left behind when his family flies to Paris for their Christmas vacation. Kevin initially relishes being home alone, but soon has to contend with two would-be burglars.

That was fiction but what about real life?

Much has been said, pondered or speculated about the what the law says about leaving children alone and unsupervised and this has been especially true in the UK after the mysterious disappearance of British three-year-old Madeleine McCann nine years ago on May 3, 2007.

in happier times: Gerry and Kate McCann with their twins and Madeleine.

In happier times: Gerry and Kate McCann with their twins and Madeleine.

She is believed to have been abducted from her family’s holiday apartment in Praia de Luz, Portugal, while her parents and up to seven friends enjoyed a night out in a tapas bar some 50 or so yards away. Madeleine was left sleeping in the same room as her younger twin brother and sister with no babysitter and one outside door left unlocked. Her parents sought to ensure the children’s safety through a series of checks being made by themselves or one of their friends every half-hour.

It was when it was Madeline’s mother Kate’s turn to check that she raised the alarm that her daughter was not in bed or anywhere in the apartment. Since then, there has been a wealth of people asking questions on social media and elsewhere about what the law says about leaving children alone.

When I was aged seven, my parents left my 14-year-old sister in charge when they went to see a movie. Later, when I reached 14, I regularly babysat youngsters while their parents went out. It paid quite well, I seem to remember.

So, is 14 some sort of magic age in UK law when you are considered mature enough to be responsible for younger children? And, at what age can you legally leave them alone?

Well, surprising as it may be, UK law doesn’t specify an age when you can leave a child on their own but it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places him or her at risk. So, it is up to parents to be responsible and to use their judgement on how mature their child is before deciding to leave him or her alone at home – or even in a car.

The children’s charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has some pretty exacting guidelines which can be found on the government website that addresses the question of leaving children alone:

The NSPCC says that children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time; that children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight; and that babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.

There is also a stark warning that “Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’.”


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Have MS? Don’t give up, join a support group

MS Synergy poster

Support groups have a very important part to play and none more so than MS Synergy that operates in North Wales, UK.

Groups like MS Synergy enable people with multiple sclerosis to meet others in a similar position – while carers, family members and friends can get together with their counterparts as well as MS professionals and anyone with an interest in the illness.

It gives everyone the opportunity to meet, swap experiences and socialise regularly.

Synergy is an independent support group, not part of any other MS body, and operates as a small charity under UK charity law. It raises funds to meet its own expenditure and it is run by volunteer officers who do not receive any form of payment for their work.

I have been honoured to be the group’s secretary for the first two years of its existence as an independent charity and now, even though Lisa and I have moved to Spain, we remain committed to helping out from afar.

The publicity poster reproduced above was written and designed by me. It’s message is a simple one: Just because we have MS, there is no need to give up on life. We are people who have a disability, we are living with that disability and, most importantly, we are people – just like everyone else. People everywhere, with MS or not, can all have fun and dignity.

There are many support groups around the world, not just in the UK. If you think one might help you, then look for one near you. And, if you live anywhere in North Wales, just contact MS Synergy. Just email or telephone UK number 01444 390392.

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