Fuel Poverty Interventions Key in Tackling Sickle Cell Disease

22nd June 2015

Tackling fuel poverty in the homes of people with sickle cell disease could reduce debilitating attacks and save significant money for the NHS, according to a study by Sheffield Hallam University funded by the Chesshire Lehmann Fund.

Friday 19 June is World Sickle Cell day. Sickle cell disease (SCD) involves sickle shaped red blood cells blocking small blood vessels, which then stops the oxygen from getting through to where it is needed leading to a 'sickle crisis'. These can require several days of hospitalisation and can lead to stroke, organ failure and death, with exposure to cold being one of the principle triggers for an attack. Despite this, the report found that people with SCD find it particularly challenging to stay warm at home. Participants reported that maintaining a steady income to keep up with fuel payments was challenging. Employment was difficult to maintain due to frequent episodes of illness, yet they found it problematic to qualify for disability benefits because SCD is a fluctuating condition. Participants also reported being sanctioned for not signing on whilst they were hospitalised, resulting in disconnection from heating, not being able to buy food and thus the immediate risk of being re-admitted to hospital on being discharged. The report recommends investing in tackling fuel poverty as a way of reducing attacks and reducing the need for hospitalisations. Dr Anna Cronin de Chavez, from the Centre for Health and Social Care Research at Sheffield Hallam University, said -The cost of one hospitalisation of a few days for a sickle cell crisis is seven times the cost of an average annual fuel bill, making warm interventions potentially a highly cost-effective measure. "Apart from saving the NHS significant investment at a time when it is coming under increasing pressure, action to reduce fuel poverty is vital to reduce the suffering of people who face unique challenges in keeping warm due to their debilitating illness. "Unfortunately this isn't a unique problem. There are also indications that other people with fluctuating conditions such as MS, Parkinsons, arthritis and mental health problems may experience similar difficulties in staying warm and healthy at home." The 'Keeping Warm with Sickle Cell Disease Research Project' looked at the challenges people with SCD have in staying warm enough at home. 15 adults with SCD or parents of a child with SCD from Yorkshire, Manchester and the Midlands were interviewed and home temperature readings were conducted as part of the project. Multiple examples of where cold exposures led directly to hospitalisation were cited. Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited disease in the UK. The disease affects an estimated 13,500 people in England, with an estimated 240,000 having the trait. SCD is present in people of all ethnicities but has a higher prevalence among people of African and Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean origin.

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