NHS funding was in the news again earlier this year, and the subject was stem cell transplants. In particular, how funding limits the NHS to giving patients just one chance at a stem cell transplant for those suffering with life-threatening illnesses.
This announcement was included in the NHS report which lists the provisional investment decisions for deciding which new treatments and services will be available to patients through the NHS.
The decision will mean that patients who are suffering with blood cancer or blood disorders and have already had one donor transplant but relapsed, will not be allowed to receive treatment for a second time.
This decision could effectively be handing many patients a death sentence, as without the second stem cell transplant, they could die. Evidence has suggested that if they received the second chance of the transplant, there is a one in three chance that they will reach the milestone of five year survival.
Although a major reason for the refusal of a second treatment is the cost of the procedure, according to a patient support group, whilst the cost of the transplant costs between £50,000 and £120,000, the cost of caring for just one patient for a year who is refused the treatment can be £130,000.
I spoke to Anthony Newington, 23, a Factory Operative, who recently donated his stem cells for patients who urgently need a transplant. He feels that the NHS decision to cut funding for second stem cell transplants is outrageous.
He said, “for an institution with a primary purpose of preserving life to essentially hand somebody a death sentence is wrong and unjust. Those suffering from blood cancer should not be limited to just one chance at recovery.”
Newington was previously unaware of the process of donating until Anthony Nolan visited his university. Anthony Nolan is the blood cancer charity and stem cell registry that coordinates all donors for UK transplants, and they were visiting his university to give out information on what they were about, as well as attempting to recruit donors.
Newington believes that the cancer charity visiting his university was a great idea and he immediately felt the urge to donate his own stem cells, which he knew were going to a good cause. He said, “If I can potentially save somebody’s life simply by giving something that I have an abundance of, then I will definitely do it.”
He explained that the donation process was incredibly simple and well organised, contrary to what his peers previously thought, as it is a process than can be thought of as long-winded and painful.
After speaking to the charity’s coordinators who explained the full process in detail, Newington confirmed that he still wanted to donate and he was then sent a blood sample kit which he took to his GP, before it was sent back to Anthony Nolan.
These samples confirmed that he was a suitable match, and a medical examination was then carried out. After a few home visits from nurses on the 4 days leading up to the donation to administer a course of G-CSF injections that stimulate the bone marrow to produce more stem cells and release them into the bloodstream, Newington was ready for his hospital visit for the official donation process.
After brief vital signs examinations, Newington was linked up to the machine which took blood from one arm, which was put through the machine to extract the stem cells, and then pumped back into the other arm.
He said, “I found the donation itself relatively painless and comfortable. In the past the process for donating stem cells was via bone marrow extraction, however the new technique, and the one I experienced, is a lot less invasive and involves extracting the stem cells from your blood.
The only slightly painful part is the ‘sharp scratch’ that you experience when the needles are inserted into your veins – one into each arm.”
Newington was relatively comfortable during the 4 hour process, and said that he had full use of one arm throughout, meaning that he could read a book and use his phone/laptop to keep himself occupied whilst the process was taking place.
When the extraction was completed, he had his vital signs checked again, before being sent on his way.
He explained how smoothly the entire process was from start to finish, and how accommodating all staff members were, from nurses in the hospital, to all those involved in medical examinations beforehand, which were all carried out at the locations most convenient for him.
He explained, “I think that stem cell donation is something that needs to be more widely publicised. If the Anthony Nolan charity had not been present at my university I would not have found out about it.
Nearly all the people that I have spoken to since my donation had no idea stem cell donation existed, and those that had believed the process to be incredibly painful. I believe that if people were made aware of the simplicity and relatively painless process of stem cell donations a lot more would be willing to sign up.”
The Anthony Nolan Trust is urging people to write to their MPs to rebuke the NHS decision to stop funding the life-saving treatment for those who will otherwise not survive. We also need to spread the word about how easy and painless the process of donating stem cells is, just as Newington has bravely demonstrated.
About The Author
Jess Murray is a wildlife filmmaker and conservation blogger, having recently returned from studying wildlife and conservation in South Africa, she is now striving to spread awareness about the truth behind faux conservation facilities throughout the world. You can follow Jess on Facebook Here