Trust launches the regional specialist centre for haemoglobinopathy

15th Mar 2017

A West Midland hospital trust is the first in the region to offer a new specialist service to treat sickle cell and thalassaemia sufferers.
Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust (SWBH), in collaboration with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and the West Midlands Specialist Commissioners,  has officially launched the regional specialist centre for haemoglobinopathy, meaning that patients do not have to travel to London to receive pioneering treatment for blood conditions.

Both Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia are inherited conditions affecting the red blood cells. Patients are normally of African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian background.  Patients  attending this new centre receive automated red cell exchange treatment – a complete blood transfusion – thanks to  this  state of the art NHS service. This procedure removes all of the patients abnormally shaped red blood cells and replaces them with donated blood, using a technique called apheresis. Patients have received more than 500 units of blood from NHSBT since the service started.

Chief Executive for SWBH NHS Trust Toby Lewis commented: “We are thrilled to have both the regional designation and the localised apheresis service now in place.  This puts our teams at the heart of a region wide effort to raise the standard of local care.  These issues matter to our patients and it is fantastic that we are able to improve local specialised services in the heart of Birmingham and the Black Country.”

Specialist Nurses from NHSBT provide the  apheresis service. Catherine Howell, NHS Blood and Transplant ‘s  Chief Nurse for Diagnostic and Therapeutic Services said: “NHS Blood and Transplant is delighted that this collaboration with SWBH and the West Midlands Commissioning team will open up access to automated red cell exchange services and improve the lives of many Sickle Cell patients in the West Midlands.

“Sickle Cell is a serious inherited blood disorder where the red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, are abnormally shaped. The disease can cause significant pain and even stroke if patients do not receive the correct treatment.

“NHSBT is proud to be in a position to support NHS colleagues with these crucial services.”

The treatment relies on blood donors and people from the same ethnic background are more likely to be a match. Ian Trenholm, Chief Executive at NHS Blood and Transplant said: “We really do need more black and Asian blood donors to meet the needs of patients. Many people think that blood is only needed in an accident or emergency situation, but people with Sickle Cell Disease often need blood transfusions on a regular basis just to stay alive.”

Liz Green, lead nurse for Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia at SWBH, said: “Our aim with this service is to make the hospital the smallest part of their life as is possible. We do not want people to be defined by their illness. We want them to have the same hopes, dreams, aspirations and life goals as anyone else.”

There are more than 15,000 people with Sickle Cell and 2000 with Thalassaemia in the UK. One of these is Mohammad Farooq. He commented: ““For a Thalassaemia Major patient the Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Unit is a life line; a modern one-stop facility with specialist and highly experienced doctors and nurses. It is the NHS at its best, and allows me and my fellow patients to continue our daily lives with minimum disruption, and, therefore, be able to contribute to society.”

Acclaimed poet Benjamin Zephaniah said: “Haemoglobinopathy. That’s such a difficult word for a dyslexic like me to say with a Jamaican accent, but it’s an important word. With the City Hospital in Birmingham being designated the regional specialist centre for haemoglobinopathy, it means that members of my family, and other Sickle Cell and Thalassemia patients needing treatment, won’t have to travel hundreds of miles to get it. I am so proud that some caring NHS workers have manage to get this for the people of my city, (and beyond), and we Brummies should truly appreciate this vital resource. This is how we take care of ourselves, and each other. So walk good, and stay healthy.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies commented: “I am delighted to see ‘best practice’ services like Apheresis for sickle cell spreading to local centres of excellence. Patients will have better access and better lives as a result.”


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