Posted: Wed 28th Feb 2024

Wales urged to offer blood count tests for all those presenting at GP’s with leukaemia symptoms

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

In a significant call to action, North Wales Member of the Senedd (MS), Mark Isherwood, has pressed the Welsh Government to heed the recommendations of the Spot Leukaemia Campaign.

Their campaign emphasises the critical need for full blood count tests for individuals presenting with symptoms indicative of leukaemia, a measure that could potentially save lives.

Opening his Short Debate on ‘The Spot Leukaemia campaign and access to blood tests’ in this afternoon’s meeting of the Welsh Parliament, Mr Isherwood said that the most recent Public Health Wales Observatory data showed that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was the Health Board with the highest leukaemia mortality in Wales, with leukaemia being attributable to 311 deaths in the five years between 2017 and 2021.

He stressed that a full blood count is all that is needed to diagnose leukaemia early or to rule it out, and called on Ministers to ensure that those who present with symptoms of leukaemia have access to this.

He said; “This is significantly cheaper than many other diagnostic tests and could also detect many other conditions earlier, helping to save lives.

“This is why the Blood Cancer Charity Leukaemia Care has launched its Spot Leukaemia Campaign, in collaboration with Leukaemia research charity, Leukaemia UK, which aims to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of leukaemia among the public and healthcare professionals, and to help reduce the number of people receiving an emergency diagnosis, which could improve patient outcomes.”

The six most common symptoms experienced by all leukaemia patients prior to diagnosis are:

1. Fatigue

2. Shortness of breath

3. Fever or night sweats

4. Bruising or bleeding

5. Bone/joint pain

6. And repeated infections

Mr Isherwood added:

“According to the NICE referral guidelines, everyone presenting with the symptoms of leukaemia should get an urgent 48-hour full blood count to diagnose Leukaemia early or to rule it out.

“However, Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK’s survey found that only one-third of patients reported that they received a blood test straight away after seeing a GP about their symptoms – i.e. following one appointment only.

“In addition, almost a quarter, 23.5%, of acute leukaemia respondents said it took up to three to four months after first presenting to the GP to get a blood test.

“Furthermore, Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK often hear from their GP advisors that the system and capacity pressures they face stop them from conducting full blood counts every time they see a patient with the symptoms in the NICE guidelines, even though they are aware that they should be.

“Leukaemia Care therefore recommends that the Welsh Government should promote GP education tools that are available on the topic of leukaemia, to help GPs become more familiar with the symptoms of leukaemia, and address the GP and other primary care or diagnostic workforce pressures, providing adequate investment for this.”

Mr Isherwood referred to an ongoing trial in England where pharmacists are able to refer patients directly for blood tests when they present to them with symptoms, and said “This is something that both charities believe should be replicated in Wales”.

He added;

““Earlier diagnosis is vital to save and improve the lives of those with leukaemia.

“The Welsh Government and Public Health Wales should, and must, routinely record and publish emergency presentation data for leukaemia, and it would be a dereliction of duty if they did not respond positively to this urgent call.

“One of the ten national design principles in the Welsh Government’s “A Healthier Wales” plan is Prevention and early intervention.

“There is therefore little excuse for the Welsh Government not to take up the recommendations made by the Spot Leukaemia Campaign and help stop Leukaemia devastating lives.”

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