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Over a third of people with blood cancer “haven’t had shielding letter”

27th Apr 2020

Our survey found that over a third of people with blood cancer who are expecting to get a letter telling them to stay at home because of the coronavirus have not yet received one.

Our online survey found that of the 382 people with blood cancer who expected to get the shielding letter, 37% said they had not yet received one. This is despite the fact that everyone who currently has blood cancer needs to shield because they are at much higher risk from the coronavirus, and that all the letters should have been delivered by now.

Given that people with blood cancer account for 115,000 of the 1.5 million “extremely vulnerable” people in England who should be shielding, our survey exposed significant problems with the process of sending the letters. It follows reports from Wales that the NHS sent 13,000 shielding letters to the wrong address, while the NHS has also had to apologise for sending more than 10,000 of the letters to dead people.

We've called on the NHS to act urgently to make sure every person who should be shielding gets a letter. It has warned that “extremely vulnerable” people need the letters to be able to access food deliveries and to show their employer they are entitled to statutory sick pay if they cannot work from home. And some people with blood cancer who do not get the letter might not realise they are not supposed to be shielding.

Gemma Peters, Chief Executive of Blood Cancer UK, said: “It’s now a month since the NHS decided that people with blood cancer need to stay at home to protect themselves from the coronavirus, so it is unacceptable that large numbers of them still haven’t received the letter.

“Not having a letter puts them at a significant disadvantage. The people calling our support line are telling us it is making it more difficult to get food delivered and to show their employer that they should not be at work. At a time when many people with blood cancer are feeling anxious and vulnerable because of the coronavirus, this is adding yet another worry.

“Even worse, the failure to send out enough letters could be giving some people false assurance that they are not at increased risk. If that means they are going to work because they do not realise that they have a compromised immune system, it raises the prospect that this could cost lives. We know that sending out a letter to 1.5 million people with health conditions is complicated, but the Government needs to take decisive action to make sure everyone who is supposed to be shielding has had a letter.

“It is, of course, possible that some of the people who completed the survey were mistaken in thinking they should have received a letter. But the sheer number of people who said they expected to one but haven’t clearly shows that something has gone seriously wrong. The results of our survey also just confirm what we are being told privately by clinicians.”

For further information, please call our Press Office on 020 7269 9019 or email us at [email protected]. During out of office hours, please call 07824 375880.

Notes to editors

The survey was conducted online between April 17 and April 23. We have only used the data of those people who said they had blood cancer and had expected to receive the letter.

About Blood Cancer UK

We’re a community dedicated to beating blood cancer by funding research and supporting those affected. Since 1960, we've invested over £500 million in blood cancer research, transforming treatments and saving lives.