The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is an understandable concern for all of us and people with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of experiencing more serious complications from it.
As the UK government continues to update its COVID-19 related restrictions we are updating our advice for people who have received or waiting to receive a stem cell transplant. We are working alongside other cancer charities, medical experts and the NHS to make sure this advice is updated as the situation develops.
At this time, you probably have lots of questions, so we have tried to answer some of the most common and pressing concerns here:
You can contact the Anthony Nolan Patient Services helpline on 0303 303 0303 or firstname.lastname@example.org
You are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) if you:
If you fall into this high risk category, you have previously been advised to follow rigorous ‘shielding’ measures by remaining indoors in order to keep yourself safe. These included limiting those who visit your home to people providing essential support, making sure all visitors wash their hands regularly and maintaining safe distancing measures whenever possible.
These shielding guidelines have now been relaxed across the UK. Like the general population, people who were shielding are able to do the following, if they feel comfortable to do so:
People who had previously been in the high risk category may be advised to shield again in the future. However, this will be for a limited time, in individual areas where the risk of infection is very high. If you live in one of these areas the government will let you know in writing and give you further advice. Further government advice on shielding is available here.
After talking to transplant centre consultants, we recommend that you discuss your situation with your medical team before making any changes to the precautions you follow. Your medical team has the fullest understanding of your own medical history and the potential impact COVID-19 could have on your health.
If you think you have developed any symptoms of coronavirus such as a new, continuous cough or fever, seek clinical advice using the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.
If the number of coronavirus cases increases at any time, local restrictions may be imposed.
In Wales a national firebreak lockdown has been imposed until 9 November - those restrictions are explained here. In England, restrictions are based on the government’s three tier system and in Scotland restrictions will be based on a new five tier system. Any other local restrictions will be set by each government and local authorities.
The government will monitor the situation continuously and notify local patients by letter and text message to advise on the actions you should take.
In England, if your workplace is within an area where local restrictions are in place but you live outside that area and cannot work from home, you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. Email email@example.com to find out more.
More information on how coronavirus could impact your work is available on the ACAS website.
If you have any concerns about any of this, please contact your medical team who will be able to advise on the most suitable course of action for you.
Most government support for people shielding ended when shielding was paused, but local groups and organisations are still providing some support. You can find more information about the support in your area using the following links:
We realise this guidance may be challenging to follow and its impact could cause stress and anxiety for some of our patients. Your healthcare team will be able to help answer any specific questions you have around this.
You can also call our helpline on 0303 303 0303 or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Everybody not considered to be at high-risk should be avoiding all unnecessary contact with other people and limit travelling on public transport whenever possible. You should avoid gatherings of more than six people you do not live with and limit going outside unnecessarily. You will need to maintain safe social distancing measures at all times.
Public Health England has published guidance on how people can safely distance themselves from other people and how households can cope with a possible coronavirus infection. We advise you follow this guidance no matter where you live in the UK.
Keep in touch with your medical team too as they may want to change the way they offer their follow-up appointments. This will be to limit the number of times you have to physically attend the hospital and so you can minimise your travel, particularly on public transport.
If you have any specific questions about how coronavirus could affect your own situation, please contact someone from your medical team. They will be happy to talk to you about any concerns you may have.
To help prevent the spread of coronavirus the advice to everyone, to protect yourself and others, is to:
Your transplant team are likely to change how they manage your medical appointments. Some consultations will be carried out either over the phone or by video. This will limit the amount of face-to-face contact needed and reduce your need to travel on public transport.
If you do need to attend in person, steps will be put in place to reduce the time spent in waiting rooms. Everyone will be asked to attend appointments without family members or carers if possible.
Where possible you should also try to avoid picking up your prescriptions in person. This can be done by ordering through online home delivery services, asking for help from family and friends or NHS volunteer services.
The stem cell transplant process significantly weakens the immune system, making patients more vulnerable to contracting infections including coronavirus. During the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, some stem cell transplants were delayed to help protect patients and enable vital NHS resources to be directed to where they were most needed. Most autologous transplants and allogeneic transplants where the situation was deemed non-urgent were affected.
The NHS is now working hard to carry out transplants that were previously delayed whilst also seeing newly diagnosed patients. This may mean that waiting times are longer than usual but those in most urgent need of treatment will receive their stem cell transplant first.
Your individual situation will be assessed by your transplant team, who will be able to discuss your options with you in detail. They will only delay your transplant if it will not have a significant effect on your quality of life. Any decision will also be given to you in writing.
At Anthony Nolan, we are working closely with every transplant centre in the UK and our suppliers to minimise the disruption coronavirus may cause. Where possible, we are searching for multiple potential stem cell donors, including those from umbilical cord stem cells, and making sure we can still import donated cells from across the world. This will allow us to continue our life-saving work.
If you have any specific concerns, please contact your transplant centre. They will be in the best position to advise based on your medical condition, where your stem cells are coming from and the impact of coronavirus on local hospitals.
More information about coronavirus and how to reduce the risk of infection is available from the NHS website.
The Anthony Nolan Patient Services team is working hard to ensure we can still provide support to patients and families throughout the coronavirus pandemic: