Home » Haematology » How inequalities are hitting blood cancer care

Helen Rowntree

Director of Research, Services and Engagement, Blood Cancer UK

Tackling healthcare inequalities sits at the core of helping to beat blood cancer for everybody

The treatment of blood cancer, and the care of those who have it, can vary. It is a condition affected by healthcare inequalities.

Ethnicity, health literacy and gender are factors, but at Blood Cancer UK, our mission is to beat blood cancer for everybody within a generation.

While that goal is achievable, we know it can only be met if we tackle those inequalities, which are also visible around research and access to clinical trials.

We know that some patient groups are better represented than others, but we have to address this to ensure the research we support truly reflects the needs of the broader population.

Mental health

COVID-19 has had a wide-reaching impact. Blood cancer patients are particularly affected as their condition places them at high risk from COVID-19 and vaccines are less likely to be effective.

Many are still shielding, which has created ongoing anxiety. In over 6,400 responses to our survey of blood cancer patients and carers last year, 87% said their mental health had been affected by the pandemic. As a result, we are carrying out work around access to mental health support.

COVID has presented some opportunities to change the way care is delivered to benefit some patients, for example catalysing a shift to digital healthcare. However, blood cancer can impact people of all ages and demographics and not everyone has access to the necessary technology, or is comfortable engaging in health services through it. Moving forwards, we need to be careful that these changes don’t create a digital divide in patient care.

A key learning point has been the importance of building inclusion into new services from the outset, rather than adapting them later.

Trial support

We hope lessons learned from COVID-19 research will lead to changes in the post-COVID clinical trial environment, with greater patient centricity, more mechanisms to get patients into trials and better support once they are enrolled in them.

Last year, as COVID hit, we launched our nurse-led clinical trial support service to help participants better understand trials and processes, what they are consenting to and possible side effects.

A key learning point has been the importance of building inclusion into new services from the outset, rather than adapting them later.

Time to act

Improving the quality of information available about blood cancer is invaluable in raising awareness in the broader population, patients and healthcare professionals.

But above all, we know we must act now to address those health inequalities to achieve our over-arching mission.

We remain acutely aware that the only way we will beat blood cancer for everybody is by acknowledging the inequalities that currently exist in blood cancer care, treatment and outcomes, and working to address them.

This content has been initiated, funded and reviewed by Kite, a Gilead company

Document number: UK-UNB-0304
Date of preparation: June 2021

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