Paralympians with MS delighted to receive national honours


Two Paralympians with multiple sclerosis, who won gold medals in Rio in 2016, are delighted to have had their efforts recognized in their country’s New Year Honours list.

Kadeena Cox and Stephanie Millward have both been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, which is denoted by adding the letters MBE after their names.


Kadeena Cox.

Both took to Twitter to express their pleasure. Kadeena, who received her award for service to athletics, tweeted: “SPOTY (BBC TV Sports Personality of the Year) nomination now MBE, 2016 couldn’t have been a better year. Thanks for all the support and here’s to a great 2017.”


Stephanie Millward.

And Stephanie, whose award was for her services to swimming, tweeted: “Thank you everyone 4 following me &supporting me for an amazing GOLD & MBE in 2016! Good luck for 2017!! I hope all your dreams come true!”

Kadeena, aged 25, lives in Leeds, West Yorkshire, and was diagnosed with MS two years ago. As featured here on September 18, she won gold medals in both cycling and athletics in Rio, becoming the first Briton since 1988 to win a medal in two sports at the same Paralympics. This was recognized publicly when she was selected to be Great Britain’s flag bearer at the games’ closing ceremony.

Stephanie, is 35 and lives in Corsham, Wiltshire. She was diagnosed with MS at the age of 17 and embarked on an 18-year journey to the top of the Paralympic podium, winning two gold medals at Rio.


MS Society Ambassadors Stephanie Millward (left) and Kadeena Cox. (Pic:: MS Society).

Both women are Ambassadors of the UK’s MS Society, on behalf of which Ian Fannon said: “We’re absolutely thrilled for Kadeena and Stephanie to be recognized in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. They’ve both had a phenomenal year and these awards pay tribute to their dedication and achievements.

“We’re so proud to have Kadeena and Stephanie as MS Society Ambassadors, helping to raise awareness about this challenging and unpredictable condition.”

To that, I must add my congratulations for the great efforts and achievements of these Paralympians and MS warriors and for their subsequent well-deserved honours.

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.


‘Devastating’ benefit cuts could hit 10% of people with MS – and other disabilities too

One in ten people with multiple sclerosis in the UK could face cuts in government disability benefit payments, according to new figures published by the country’s MS Society.

The figures reveal the severe extent of benefits cuts for people living with MS. And, I would sms society logo new_editeday that it is highly likely that people living with other disabilities could be hit to the same degree.

The society, the UK’s largest MS charity, estimates that more than a thousand people with MS have already had their benefits downgraded since the phased introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) began to replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

The society said: “Of those eligible for DLA, 93% of people with MS received the highest rate of mobility support. But of the 4,349 who have so far been moved over to PIP, only 70% have received the same rate.

“With more than 80% of people on DLA still to be moved onto PIP, we’re concerned that up to 10,000 people with MS could eventually lose access to the highest rate of mobility support.”

michelle mitchell ms societyMS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell (pictured, left) said: “Changes to disability benefits assessments have already had a devastating impact on the lives of too many people living with MS.

“It’s absurd that those who were once deemed in need of this crucial support now face having it reduced or taken away. We’re deeply concerned by the staggering figures of how many could lose out.”

Tightening of the eligibility criteria under PIP means that more people with MS stand to lose this support. Under PIP, if someone can walk more than 20 metres, even with walking aids, they will no longer qualify for the highest rate of support.

Previously, under DLA, 50 metres was considered to be the rule of thumb for entitlement to the higher rate.

“Changes to the eligibility criteria for mobility support under PIP were introduced with no evidence to show why it was reduced. These changes must be reversed to reflect the barriers people with MS face.

“Having a condition like MS is hard enough. It shouldn’t be made harder by a benefits system that doesn’t make sense,” said Ms Mitchell.

She’s absolutely right, of course, and it is good to see the MS Society making a stand and calling for change. Not that the current government will take any notice.


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MS Patients in US and UK Face Very Different Treatment

healthcare costs

We may have international cooperation and worldwide this and that, but the fact remains that countries vary drastically from one another in all sorts of ways. Take healthcare as an example, and the costs of treatment.

Yes, we have the World Health Organization and there are various health-related initiatives from the United Nations, but that is about it on the international front.

Let’s have a brief look at healthcare provisions, including how they affect people with multiple sclerosis, in two Western countries said to be close allies and who enjoy what they term a “special relationship.” That’s the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

I was born, and lived my entire life until last year, in the U.K., which is supposedly a welfare state. I say “supposedly” because, at the rate at which David Cameron’s government was cutting the welfare budget, there can be no certainty this will continue.

Anyway, a key element of the founding of the welfare state, just after the Second World War, was the setting up of the National Health Service, which includes all GPs, hospitals, and ambulance services. It is a healthcare service that took good care of me when I lived there.

And everyone living in the U.K. is entitled to the treatment they need absolutely free of charge. Yes, you did read that right. The British do not need private medical insurance, have no co-pay to worry about. If they fall ill they just visit their family doctor, or go to a hospital if their condition’s more serious, where they know all tests, treatments and stay, if admitted, will not cost one penny.

World’s apart

The only expense they may incur is the small cost of prescriptions, and only in England. Charges for these, all of which go to the government, vary by country. Residents of England face a prescription charge of £8.40 (about $11.15) for each medicine or appliance dispensed. In each of the other constituent countries in the U.K., namely, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, all prescriptions are free. There are, however, charges for NHS dental and optician services.

It’s a far different story in the U.S., however. If you live outside that country, as I do, then let me assure you that what became known as Obamacare is far from NHS-style service. It still requires that hefty medical costs be paid.

Americans go to see their GP – they get a bill; they go to a hospital as an outpatient — they get a bill; they see a specialist – they get a bill; they are admitted to a hospital – they get a bill; they have an operation – they get a bill; they are taken to a hospital by ambulance – they get a bill.

The costs go on and on, and can really add up. Then there are prescription costs, which can be tremendous. A study published in May 2013 in the Journal of Medical Economics found that the total cost of healthcare for MS patients in the U.S. ranged from about $8,500 to more than $54,000 per year during the period studied (1999 to 2008), with prescription drugs accounting for a large percentage of those costs.

OK, medical insurance policies may cover most of these costs, but not all. Most policies in the U.S. come with co-pays, sometimes substantial ones. The precise level of a co-pay, or the portion of total health costs carried by patients, depends on the specific insurance policy. And then, again, patients still have to pay for their insurance, except for those whose employer pays or who qualify for help.

Clearly, even among special friends, we’re often worlds apart. And I, at least, find that sad.


This article, written by me, firs t appeared on Multiple Sclerosis News Today website.





Ian Franks

Ian Franks is Chief Patient Columnist with He has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media; during which 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 and uses his skills to write his own flourishing specialist Health & Disability blog at 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.

Official Advice: ‘Take Vitamin D Supplements’

It is not just those of us with multiple sclerosis, now everyone living in the UK is being recommended to consider taking vitamin D supplements in autumn and winter. And this comes from the country’s top public health advisers.

A government-commissioned report has set the recommended levels at 10 micrograms of the vitamin a day, but officials are concerned this may not be achievable through diet alone, particularly when sunlight, which helps in vitamin D production, is as scarce as it is in the UK.

Small amounts of the vitamin can be found in certain foods but most of our vitamin D needs are met by the action of sunlight on our skin. But there is not enough of that owing to the country’s frequently cloudy and depressing weather. Regular readers of this blog may recall that the grey skies were the main reason Lisa and I moved to the south of Spain last year.

vit dNow, an extensive review of the evidence, carried out by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), suggests everyone over the age of one needs to consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day in order to protect bone and muscle health.

And public health officials say, in winter months, people should consider getting this from 10 microgram supplements, if their diet is unlikely to provide it.

Foods that do contain vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals.

As far as multiple sclerosis is concerned, the US National MS Society says: “Research is increasingly pointing to a reduced level of vitamin D in the blood as a risk factor for developing MS, and studies are underway to determine if vitamin D levels influence MS disease activity. Recent research also points to a possible role for vitamin D in neuroprotection and myelin repair.”

More generally, vitamin D is important because it regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are vital for the growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

However, balance is important because both too high a level of vitamin D is as dangerous as too low a level.

Too little can lead to rickets in children – where the bones become soft, weak and misshapen as they continue to grow. And vitamin D deficiency in adults can lead to osteomalacia – which causes severe bone pain and muscle aches.

On the other hand, too much vitamin D can lead to high levels of calcium in the blood which can cause heart and kidney problems.


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May uncaring,  Green self-interested, Crabb disgraced

As the dust begins to settle after the shock referendum result in the UK that says that Britain should leave the European Union, how do those with disabilities stand?

Well, in the medium-term, the country will still be in the EU until two years after clause 50 is triggered and that looks set to not happen until the end of the year. And that means we remain protected by European laws relating to the treatment and employment of disabled people.

In the short-term, however, there may be some difficulties ahead.

PM Theresa May: Uncaring.

PM Theresa May: Uncaring.

Both Theresa May, the new prime minister, and Damien Green, the third work and pensions secretary this year, have records of voting to reduce spending on welfare benefits as well as other so-called reforms aimed at saving government money – irrespective of the likely effect to the disabled and vulnerable

In May’s case, that is despite having her vicar father in a wheelchair when she was about eight years old and her mother living with multiple sclerosis.

Both her parents died within a year of each other when Theresa was in her mid-20s. Any hope that such experiences in her early years might have engendered some compassion seem, however, to be sadly misplaced. She is just another uncaring politician.

Damien Green: Self-interest.

Damien Green: Self-interest.

Green has never rebelled and has always voted the way the government demanded, showing he has a distinct disinterest in serving the people, just his party. And, from that faithful obedience, he has also served his self-interest well, leading to this cabinet appointment.

Stephen Crabb’s high-flying political career seems to have crashed and burned, at least temporarily. This was the guy plucked from his role as parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Welsh Office to take over as Welsh Secretary on July 15, 2014. He was then promoted to work and pensions secretary on March 19 this year, following the dramatic resignation of Iain Duncan Smith.

Then, following David Cameron’s decision on June 24 to stand down, he declared himself as a candidate for leader of the Conservative party but dropped out of the race after finishing fourth of five in the first round of voting.

Stephen Crabb: Disgraced.

Stephen Crabb: Disgraced.

This week, Crabb withdrew from consideration as a government minister after a newspaper exposed him for sexting, or sending sex text messages. In his letter to Mrs May, he said he was standing down “in the best interests of his family”.

He was disgraced and his career was significantly damaged after The Times alleged that he had been sending sexually explicit messages to the WhatsApp messaging service.

According to the newspaper, Crabb, 43, a Christian and a married father of two, had a series of flirtatious and sexually charged exchanges with a young woman during the run-up to the EU referendum. In a late-night exchange last month, he is alleged to have told her that he wanted to kiss her “everywhere”.

In this blog on July 1, I said that Crabb was unfit to head the work and pensions department, let alone the entire government. Now I have to question his suitability for any public office, including that of a back-bench MP.




LONG live our noble Queen … LONG to reign over us

queen + 3_editedHer Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with three kings-in-waiting: son Prince Charles, grandson Prince William and great grandson Prince George.

Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of the UK and numerous other commonwealth countries, has certainly broken a couple of records during her reign

Today, April 21, Her Majesty celebrates her 90th birthday – the first reigning British monarch ever to do so.

Last year, her time on the throne exceeded that of her Great Great Grandmother, Queen Victoria. Yes, in September, Queen Elizabeth became Britain’s longest serving monarch, having succeeded her father King George VI when he died in February 1952.

Now her reign has reached 64 years 2 months during which the world has seen seven Popes, seven Archbishops of Canterbury, 12 British Prime Ministers and 12 Presidents of the United States of America.

Happy birthday, Ma’am1.



1 Protocol note: When addressing the Queen, you first say “Your Majesty” then, subsequently, “Ma’am”. However, the correct pronunciation to be followed is that “Ma’am” should be said “Mam”, as in ham NOT farm.



British Euro vote campaign officially gets under way as US presidential hopefuls face New York primary

euro vote

As electoral campaigns go, the official 10-weeks allowed for the UK public to decide which way to vote in the referendum on Europe is nothing when compared to how long it takes for the USA to choose a president.

The four main contenders for the two party nominations for president announced their candidacies from March to June 2015 – that’s as long as 20 months before the eventual November 2016 polling day. Of course, that includes the campaigns leading up to the two party conventions in July – but that still leaves a final party versus party campaign of some 15 weeks.

In comparison, UK general elections that choose the government, and so the prime minister, have a final campaign time of less than six weeks.

So, as the presidential candidates prepare for their New York state primaries on Tuesday (19), the British referendum about Europe officially began yesterday, Friday April 15.

On June 23, British voters are being asked to choose whether or not they wish the country to stay as a member of the European Union. The ballot paper question will read:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

And voters will be asked to choose between Remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union.

Of course, the Remain and Leave campaigners have been making their points of view known for months but, with the official campaign now under way, with the lead campaigns designated as Britain Stronger In Europe and Vote Leave.

However, all is not as it should be with the Leave.EU group claiming it should have been made the lead leave group, that the criteria were not followed correctly and that it is going to seek a judicial review.

If that turns out to be the case, it could mean that the referendum might be delayed by weeks if not months.

And that is not the only problem. There is a separate legal action in the works. Lawyers for expat pensioner Harry Shindler have said his judicial review against the UK’s expat voting ban will be heard in the High Court as planned. His lawsuit is on behalf of all British expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years and so are denied votes by a UK law that David Cameron’s government is committed to repeal – but not in time for the referendum.

An exact date for the hearing has not yet been set, but should the judicial review be successful, the government will be forced to rush through legislation allowing disenfranchised British expats to vote on June 23. According to Richard Stein of law firm Leigh Day, the government has time to change the law and empower long-term expats in the EU to vote on a matter which will seriously affect their chosen lifestyles.

Putting those two legal matters aside, and the time it would take to register all the extra voters if Mr Shindler is successful, former Labour chancellor Alastair Darling has accused Leave campaigners, who are calling on the money spent on EU membership to be pumped into the NHS instead, of “playing with fire” and peddling a “fantasy future”.

Polls suggest the referendum is currently too close to call, although we know that much can change in the next 10 weeks.