Leading blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan reveals that as the furlough scheme comes to an end, up to 55,000 people with blood cancer and blood disorders have been left financially insecure by the pandemic. They are at risk of falling even further behind financially and left without the vital support they need.
According to a new poll of 273 blood cancer and blood disorder patients1 more than one in five (22%) respondents are financially worse off since the start of the pandemic after spending on PPE equipment to protect themselves and supermarket delivery costs. In some cases, patients or their carers have had to quit their jobs because of the fear of catching Covid-19, leading to a loss of earnings.
Almost half of respondents (49%) identified access to government support, including furlough and supermarket or medicine delivery schemes, as important to their ability to keep shielding. Yet with the shielding programme now closed and the furlough scheme due to come to an end in September 2021, these vital support options are being taken away. Over a fifth (21%) of respondents are anxious that their employers might ask them to return to the workplace before they feel safe to do so.
Not only is this group of patients struggling financially, but they are also more vulnerable to Covid-19, with studies finding 34% of blood cancer patients who contracted the virus did not survive2. This risk is substantially higher than in the general population. Additionally, two doses of current Covid-19 vaccines do not provide as much protection for patients who are immunocompromised as for those in the general population. A recent study suggests that only 13% of people with blood cancer had an antibody response after one dose of the Pfizer vaccine3, meaning that, every day, they are faced with difficult choices around returning to work and public spaces, while remaining extremely vulnerable to the virus.
Around three-quarters surveyed (74%) said their wellbeing and mental health has declined since the pandemic. The most common emotions reported to the charity were anxiety (68%), frustration (63), being overwhelmed (40%) and fear (39%).
Jennifer, 35, from Birmingham was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in January 2016 and received a stem cell transplant in July 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic her husband left his job to reduce the risk of exposing her to the virus, reducing the family’s income:
‘My husband felt that it was unsafe to work during the pandemic, as he was in a public facing role as a building maintenance electrician and there was a high risk of him bringing the virus home due to the nature of his job. He couldn’t be furloughed as the job was still needed so had to take sick leave but once his statutory sick pay ended, he had to leave his job. My sick pay also stopped so we lost our entire household income, which was really difficult. Our entire family was shielding, which was tough for us all. My daughter was meant to start school last September but only started in March, so missed out on time around other children.
‘Thankfully, I’ve recently felt well enough to return to work on reduced hours, but I'm lucky that I can work from home. My husband is now currently retraining as a software developer.
‘The Government should support clinically extremely vulnerable people financially to allow them to continue shielding, especially if they’re working in public facing roles, where they are at risk.’
Henny Braund MBE, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, says:
‘Anthony Nolan saves and improves the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders who need a stem cell transplant. These patients are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 and while society enjoys increasing freedoms from the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, people with blood cancer and blood disorders continue to feel left behind, which can have a significant impact on them financially. Due to being less protected by the Covid-19 vaccine, which is causing a lot of anxiety for some patients, we know that many are continuing to shield. They are unable to return to work due to their high risk of contracting the virus and getting seriously ill but are being left without the vital financial support they need.
‘We are urging the Government to extend furlough for immunocompromised people who are unable to work from home. Furlough has been an important financial safety net for this group of people, which if removed, risks leaving patients falling even further behind, which is unacceptable.’
The furlough scheme is due to end at the end of September and the charity is calling on the Government to extend the scheme for those who are immunocompromised and are unable to work from home.
Anthony Nolan provides support and information to stem cell transplant patients, and their families, through their Patient Services team, clinical nurse specialists and clinical psychologists. For more information visit anthonynolan.org/coronavirus or call 0303 303 0303.