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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Sickle cell hospital admissions cut
Sickle cells
Sickle cells can clog the blood vessels
Doctors have slashed the proportion of patients with sickle cell anaemia who require admission to hospital by 30%.

This is despite the fact that the number of patients seen by Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital has doubled since 1998.

Unnecessary hospital admission can have a variety of negative effects on both physical and emotional health

Dr Veronica Thomas
The success is down to a pioneering service for sickle cell patients introduced by the London hospital which gives patients tips on how to cope more effectively with the pain associated with the condition.

Not only has it lead to a reduction in hospital admissions, the average length of stay for those patients who do require inpatient care has dropped from over nine days to under four.

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder, which largely affects Afro-Caribbean and Asian patients.


It causes unpredictable and extremely painful episodes, known as 'crises'.

Historically, these crises accounted for 90% of all emergency hospital admissions for sickle cell patients.

St Thomas's Hospital
The service is based at St Thomas's Hospital
There are over 9,000 people living with this condition in London, and the numbers are predicted to increase.

The service launched by the hospital includes the UK's first specialist clinical health psychologist ever to work within a sickle cell team.

The psychologist, Dr Veronica Thomas, is backed up by two sickle cell nurse practitioners, a full time consultant physician and genetic counsellors.

Dr Thomas said: "When we began to build up the service in 1998, there were between 15-20 patients with sickle cell disease in hospital at any one time.

"This included a significant number of patients who spent very extended periods of time in hospital, missing out on life.

"Now we have on average fewer than five inpatients with sickle cell."

Active lives

I used to panic about it and stress myself out, but the pain is so much more bearable now that I can make myself relax

Barbara Mitchell
Dr Thomas said the majority of people with sickle cell disease can lead active lives, provided they receive the right expert support.

"Unnecessary hospital admission can have a variety of negative effects on both physical and emotional health.

"Whilst inpatient numbers are now decreasing, many more people are attending on an outpatient basis to take up psychological support and visit the specialist clinic."

Among those patients to benefit from the new service is Barbara Mitchell, of Norbury, south London, who has received hospital care for sickle cell disease for the last 24 years.

She told BBC News Online: "People with sickle cell are in constant pain. I used to panic about it and stress myself out, but the pain is so much more bearable now that I can make myself relax.

"Dr Thomas's service has been brilliant. She has thought me little things. For instance, at times the pain was so bad that all I wanted to do was lay in bed, but Dr Thomas has encouraged me to go out for a walk, or to sit in the garden. It really helps."

Dr Thomas said sickle cell has suffered from a low profile and poor understanding among clinical staff.

This has meant that sickle cell patients have often not had the treatment appropriate to their needs.

Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Health Authority has recently announced funding for a second health psychologist post at the St Thomas' sickle cell clinic.

See also:

17 Jun 01 | Health
Sickle cell transplant hope
23 Nov 00 | Health
GP tackles sickle cell anaemia
06 Mar 00 | Health
Racism claim on blood research
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