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On the box: Hollyoaks set to tackle MS storyline

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Nancy Osborne

It was recently revealed that Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks will tackle an MS storyline in 2017, with Nancy Osborne set to be diagnosed with the condition. In this blog, Lydia from the MS Trust comms team highlights the importance of having people with MS on primetime TV, but also looks at the difficulties of portraying such a complex condition in a drama. 

Soap operas can come in for a lot of stick - and often it’s justified. They are supposed to mimic ‘real life’, but yet I’ll take a punt and say not too many British streets harbor quite such a colourful collection of serial killers. But when it comes to raising awareness they can often do a lot of good, shining a spotlight on some very important issues which are often misunderstood. 

This being said, it’s brilliant to hear that channel 4 soap Hollyoaks will be tackling (SPOILER ALERT) an MS storyline this year. If you’re already an avid viewer of the show, you will have seen Nancy Osborne (played by Jessica Fox and a character on the show since 2005) struggle with the symptoms of an unknown illness over the past few months. The first sign that something was seriously wrong came in the summer when Nancy was involved in a road accident, knocking over John Paul McQueen when her leg froze and she was unable to brake in time. Since then we have seen her struggle with numbness, spasms and pins and needles, all – as many reading this will already know – common symptoms of MS. In upcoming episodes due to be screened during the next few weeks, Nancy will finally get a diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS. As she comes to terms with the diagnosis, we’ll witness the mum struggle to cope as she contemplates an uncertain future. Again, a feeling many will be able to relate to.

When we posted about the storyline on the MS Trust Facebook page last week, we received a huge response. Although some of the comments were a little negative, questioning whether such a serious condition would be handled in the right way and if it would be true to life, the majority of people welcomed the news and were pleased the condition was being highlighted on primetime TV.

No matter how thorough producers are when researching a storyline, there will always be issues portraying such a complex condition in a drama. Everyone’s experience of MS is so different - it is often referred to as the ‘snowflake disease’ for this reason - and the challenges Nancy faces are unlikely to be representative of everyone with relapsing remitting MS. There will be things that irk people about the storyline, no doubt, but it will also get people talking about MS and hopefully help them understand the intricacies of it a little better. Judging by the recent news story about a man with MS getting thrown out of a Wetherspoons when bouncers mistook his symptoms for being drunk, a better understanding is something we all should be striving for.

If, like Nancy, you’ve recently been diagnosed with MS and are frightened about what the future holds, the MS Trust can support you. We can answer any questions you may have, whenever you’re ready to ask them, and help you make sense of what is bound to be a confusing and emotional time. Our Making Sense of MS resource covers everything from how to tell people about your MS to advice on disease modifying drugs. You can also contact our free enquiry service with any question you might have by calling 0800 032 3839 or emailing

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