Activist Lucy Watts MBE receives honorary Masters degree from the Open University

Categories: Community Engagement, Featured, Leadership, and People & Places.

Activist and disability advocate Lucy Watts MBE has been awarded an honorary Masters from the Open University for her commitment to public services.

The 24-year-old has a complex life-limiting condition and has received palliative care since the age of 17. She requires intravenous feeding, fluid and medication on a daily basis, and she is cared for at home by intensive care nurses and overnight carers.

Lucy is an outspoken campaigner for the needs of young adults due to her personal struggle to get adequate care as she transitioned between childhood and adulthood.

In 2013, when she was 19-years-old, Lucy gave a speech to MPs in the House of Commons where she spoke about the gaps in palliative care for young adults. In 2016 she received an MBE for services to young people with disabilities. She is also an ambassador for ICPCN, Together for Short Lives and a member of Hospice UK’s People in Partnership forum.


Lucy’s citation reads as follows:

Executive Dean, colleagues, graduates, guests: 

Lucy Watts is a campaigner and activist who draws on her own experiences of disability to improve the lives of other people grappling with severe illness.

Lucy has suffered with different health problems since birth, and became dependent on a wheelchair at the age of fourteen. The exact nature of Lucy’s condition is uncertain – it is thought that she suffers from a rare neuromuscular disease or genetic disorder – but the impact on her life is acutely clear.

Reliant on intravenous nutrition, near-constant intravenous drips, a wheelchair and hoist for mobility, and full-time intensive care nurses, Lucy’s life is challenging and complex in so many ways. Since her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour several years ago, it has become even more so. Yet she is determined not only to experience all the pleasures and joys that life has to offer, but also to bring about lasting and positive change for others.

Her career as an activist arose from this determination to make a difference. With the support of J’s Hospice in Essex, who continue to provide Lucy’s care, she began to publicly discuss the importance of palliative care for young adults, whose needs are so different from the elderly people these services are generally designed for. As a result, Lucy went to the Houses of Parliament on behalf of Together for Short Lives to explain directly to politicians, policy makers and healthcare professionals how important these services are.

Since then, she has become an accomplished and eloquent spokesperson for the needs and rights of the ill and disabled, using her experience and expertise to campaign on a range of causes. She has appeared on many different media platforms discussing health care reforms, special educational needs, disability services and palliative care, and is especially committed to improving the connections between children’s and adult services. She has advised policy makers at the Department of Health and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence on a range of issues.

Lucy is an Ambassador for Together for Short Lives, and for Dreams Come True, which grants wishes to children and young people living with serious medical conditions. She is also the first Youth Ambassador appointed by the International Children’s Palliative Care Network. Having trained her own assistance dog, Molly, Lucy is also a strong supporter of the Assistance in Disability charity Dog Aid. She has worked with a huge range of charities focused on disability, health and social care and has been awarded the MBE for services to young people with disabilities.

Lucy’s support and advice have been hugely beneficial to the Open University Sexuality Alliance, which has produced guidance and standards for those working with young people with life-limiting illnesses and conditions. These help healthcare professionals discuss issues around sex, relationships and intimacy appropriately, with care and respect for individual dignity and privacy. Lucy writes and speaks on this issue with the passion and honesty which characterise all her work. We are honoured to celebrate the life and work of this truly inspirational and extraordinary young woman.

Executive Dean, by the authority of the Senate, I present to you for the honorary degree of Master of the University, Lucy Watts. 

Writing on her blog about receiving the honorary Masters, Lucy said:

“What an incredible thing to receive, to be recognised in such a way, to be deemed worthy and to receive it from an institution I greatly respect and admire for its accessibility, openness and commitment to both making higher education accessible to people from all walks of life – especially disabled people – as well as for its commitment to furthering knowledge on a vast range of topics, both of which it excels at.

“I am truly honoured to have received this honorary masters but I accept it not just for myself, but for all the people and organisations who have played their part in my life, believed in me, kept me alive, given me quality of life, supported me and enabled me to achieve all that I have achieved and had an impact on me and my life in whatever way.”

For more about Lucy visit Lucy’s Light. Read her blog for ehospice here

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