Gemma Peters (pictured)
CEO, Blood Cancer UK
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in the UK, but people with blood cancer have been particularly badly hit.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, 200,000 cancer patients in England received a letter from the NHS, asking them to shield in their homes as they were most at risk.
Of those 200,000 people, 115,000 are living with blood cancer.
People with blood cancer are facing new challenges
There has understandably been a huge amount of anxiety in the blood cancer community. We saw a monumental increase in calls to our support line – more since the start of the pandemic than we would have received in a normal year.
Many callers have been fearful of catching COVID-19, as well as worrying about the implications of changes to their ongoing treatment and the financial impact of being unable to work.
We’ve heard how hard it is to shield in the same household as family members who are still going out to work.
A recent survey we undertook of people with blood cancer who were shielding found that over half were struggling with their mental health.
Some of the toughest calls we’ve taken have been from people who have found it impossible to get food deliveries with supermarkets and were running out of food. Many of those who were shielding had no other choice but to go out to the shops. It’s a situation we’ve been campaigning to change.
Many people, particularly those on ‘watch and wait’ and those with myeloproliferative neoplasms, are still unable to get a shielding letter that enables them to receive priority status for online supermarket shopping and helps them to prove to their employer that they cannot work.
It’s not surprising that a recent survey we undertook of people with blood cancer who were shielding found that over half were struggling with their mental health.
What’s next for people with blood cancer?
With some patients’ maintenance and non-urgent treatment postponed, along with a drop in the number of newly diagnosed cases of blood cancer during the lockdown, there will be a longer-term impact on the health system and haematology units will be under additional strain in the coming months.
It is clear that people living with blood cancer will continue to have more restrictions on their daily lives than the general population. For some, this prolonged period of isolation will take an enormous toll.
It is vital we get it right for people with blood cancer – ensuring that they and their families have clear advice, the right financial and psychological support, and access to food deliveries to protect them as the lockdown is eased.