It is also a huge pleasure to be back in the city of Southampton, especially on such a beautiful day.
I have visited the Faculty of Medicine here at the University often to see the wonderful work it is doing jointly with the University Hospitals Southampton NHS Trust, at Southampton General Hospital. The research programme into musculoskeletal disease which you have established, led by the indomitable Professor Cyrus Cooper, is truly world-leading.
Now, you don't need me to outline its ground-breaking work – but let me say that it has been genuinely life-changing for people who suffer from osteoporosis. I have seen for myself how the research - on mapping the frequency of fractures, identifying key risk-factors, and trials on supplements such as calcium - have affected the day-to day lives of patients with this devastating disease. The research and development into drugs to maintain bone density, as well as helping GPs to diagnose those most at risk and in need of preventative treatment, have made a vast difference to the clinical approaches now possible, and have a dramatic effect on people living with osteoporosis.
Now, you are probably asking yourselves how on earth I became involved with all this. It is a deeply personal connection: I watched my own mother and grandmother suffering the appalling consequences of osteoporosis, which in the end resulted in their deaths. When my mother died in 1994, I knew scarcely anything about osteoporosis but I was determined to find out more – and to find a way of helping other people avoid the same excruciating pain and disregard that she encountered in those bad old days.
As a result of this, I became Patron of the National Osteoporosis Society when it was under the dynamic leadership of the late Linda Edwards. I then became its President in 2001, and it was at around this time that I first met Professor Cyrus Cooper, who was Chairman of its Scientific Advisory Board, and later Chairman of our Board of Trustees.
Together with the current Chief Executive, Claire Severgnini, we have built on the firm foundations of those early years. The NOS continues to integrate the interests of patients, physicians, and policy-makers and has succeeded in keeping osteoporosis on the national agenda. And hand-in-hand with this, the NOS never forgets the people for whom it works – those who must live with osteoporosis every day.
At my last visit here, I was delighted to present long-service awards to some of our NOS local champions – the friendly faces of the charity, who help and advise people suffering this cruel disease.
When research began in the 1980s, osteoporosis was thought to be like grey hair – an inevitable consequence of ageing. Now its causes are better understood, fracture risks accurately evaluated, and there is a panoply of effective ways to retard bone loss and reduce fractures. Indeed, the Lifecourse Unit has been responsible for a profound change in the way in which we view many of the diseases which have become so common such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as osteoporosis. I am delighted that this vital research will be able to continue, with Professor Cooper at the helm.
May I end by saying, Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, and Senior University Members, that your work here will continue to change the world for the better. As well as vital research in medical science, you are known as one of the universities which sponsored the inception of the worldwide web; you are recognised for excellent education and research in engineering and computer science; in nursing, physiotherapy and other health sciences; in music, history and the other humanities; and you are home to the National Oceanographic Centre. You have an impact locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
It's been a great honour to receive this doctorate today from a University with such a distinguished past; and which, I am sure, will have an equally great future. Thank you very much.