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What are episodic mobility problems? Meaning of medical term - and how ill is the Queen as she misses speech

The palace no doubt wants the Queen to be as near to fighting fit as possible for the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday

Following advice from royal doctors, the Queen has withdrawn from the ceremonial opening of Parliament as she continues to suffer from “episodic movement issues.”

In a historic and unprecedented move, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge will open Parliament on behalf of the Queen, with Charles reading the Queen’s Speech 60 years after she last missed the event.

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The decision was made on Monday (8 May), in the light of the Queen’s mobility issues that are understood to have persisted since the autumn.

The monarch has been forced to cancel many public engagements over the past few months due to health issues.

But is she ill, and how is her health as the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations fast approach?

Here is everything you need to know about her.

What has happened?

Buckingham Palace said in a statement: “The Queen continues to experience episodic mobility problems, and in consultation with her doctors has reluctantly decided that she will not attend the State Opening of Parliament.

“At Her Majesty’s request, and with the agreement of the relevant authorities, The Prince of Wales will read The Queen’s Speech on Her Majesty’s behalf, with The Duke of Cambridge also in attendance.”

The decision will be regarded as a symbolic and substantial shift in Charles’ obligations as a future king when he takes on the head of state’s key constitutional duty for the first time.

It will also be William’s first state opening, and the Queen has assigned the royal responsibility of establishing a new parliament to both Charles and William.

Picture from 11/05/21 of Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by the Prince of Wales, before delivering her speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. The Queen will miss the State Opening of Parliament for the first time in nearly 60 years, with the Prince of Wales reading the Queen's Speech for the first time.

The Queen has recently been unable to attend the annual Commonwealth Day and Royal Maundy Services, despite reports that she does not intend to abdicate the throne.

She contracted Covid-19 in February 2022, with Buckingham Palace stating that she was experiencing "mild cold-like symptoms."

While recovering from infection, the Queen cancelled many work commitments; since then, she has continued to work but has reduced in-person activities due to her persistent mobility concerns.

Is she ill?

While the Queen is respectably 96 years old, in recent years she has been in relatively good health.

But since the autumn of 2021, the monarch has missed a number of royal engagements.

This relatively sudden bout of ill-health has had some people wondering whether an acute illness might be to blame for the mobility issues she is suffering, rather than simply “old age”.

Buckingham Palace has not said anything on the matter, and it is likely that were the head of state to be suffering from bad health, it would not want to make it known ahead of the anciticated Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Some have also suggested that the Queen could have been issued with a mobility scooter to help her get around at upcoming events were she simply suffering from aching joints.

But the image of a frail monarch opening Parliament from the back of a jewel encrusted mobility scooter is one the palace is likely keen to avoid, despite the fact that many people believe it would be great for disability awareness for her to be seen in a wheelchair.

The Queen reluctantly took to using a cane at engagements in October 2021, but her wheeling into ceremonial occasions amongst the pomp and pageantry is probably a step too far.

If the Queen is ill, or even if she’s just under the weather, the palace will no doubt be wanting her as close to fighting fit for the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday weekend in just a few weeks.

The Palace has stated that efforts are being made to ensure the Queen's welfare ahead of the approaching Jubilee celebrations.

What are episodic mobility issues?

The Queen’s last public appearance was on 29 March 2022, during a memorial ceremony for her late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, held at Westminster Abbey.

But the Queen has continued to host official audiences in person at Windsor Castle, including meeting heads of state, alongside virtual engagements held remotely.

While it’s easy to speculate worst-case scenarios, it is still very possible that the Queen’s mobility issues are just that: mobility issues.

According to HealthinAging.org, mobility problems can include “unsteadiness while walking, difficulty getting in and out of a chair, or falls.”

They list “weakness, joint problems, pain” as the most common causes of such issues, but do say they can also be brought on by “disease, and neurological (brain and nervous system) difficulties.”

Buckingham Palace has not revealed what is causing the Queen's mobility problems, and is unlikely to do so due to privacy concerns.

The term “episodic” could indicate that the Queen has moments of good mobility and periods of poor mobility.

This could explain why Buckingham Palace has recently held off on announcing whether the Queen will attend events until the day before, in order to gauge her mood on a daily basis.