Tag Archives: should

Doctors should order more blood cancer tests, MPs say

TV presenter Simon Thomas, whose wife died from a rare form of blood cancer last year, is calling for better training of GPs

Sky sports presenter, Simon Thomas


The Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas says doctors only diagnosed his wife’s acute myeloid leukaemia three days before she died. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

The Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas has revealed that doctors missed his wife’s blood cancer three times in the days before her death.

Thomas called for better training of GPs on the same day as politicians said doctors should order blood tests for any patient who shows symptoms of blood cancer.

Thomas’s wife, Gemma, died aged 40 in November, just three days after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a rare form of the disease.

Gemma initially had flu-like symptoms and went to see a doctor three times over the course of six days before she was finally admitted to hospital, where her condition continued to deteriorate, despite intensive chemotherapy treatment.

Since then, her husband Simon has raised more than £30,000 for charity. The money has been divided between Maggie’s Centres, a charity which offers support to people affected by cancer, and a refugee project that Gemma had launched.

On Wednesday, Thomas tweeted: “Three times my wife Gemma went to the doctor in six days and three times she was sent home and told to rest.

“Four days after her final visit to the her GP she was dead. We have to help and train our GPs and to detect blood cancer earlier.”

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

Three times my wife Gemma went to the doctor in six days and three times she was sent home and told to rest. Four days after her final visit to her GP she was dead. We have to help and train our GP’s and to detect #bloodcancer earlier. @bloodwise_uk is doing this. #hiddencancer https://t.co/V1uEz1HCLF

January 17, 2018

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia took my wife Gemma and Ethan’s Mum just before Christmas aged only 40 years and just three days after being diagnosed. This is so important. @bloodwise_uk https://t.co/V1uEz1HCLF

January 17, 2018

Thomas, 44, has been tweeting and blogging about his grief following Gemma’s death from AML, which affects around 2,600 people in Britain each year.

Thomas said he doesn’t blame the doctors who initially saw his wife before she was taken to hospital, but has encouraged people to seek a diagnosis from medics if they continue to feel unwell.

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

The darkness will hopefully not overcome. pic.twitter.com/umuBOT0TdW

January 2, 2018

The all-party parliamentary group on blood cancer said on Wednesday that many signs of blood cancer can be “misunderstood or misdiagnosed”.

In a new report, the group said that diagnosing blood cancer – such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma – can be “complex”.

Highlighting one patient group, MPs described how some elderly myeloma patients reporting symptoms of back ache and bone pain are told their symptom is “part of the ageing process”.

In order to improve early diagnosis rates, they called on GPs to immediately order a blood test for anyone presenting with one or more symptoms of blood cancer.

Symptoms of blood cancers can be similar to the symptoms of feeling “run down” or flu, such as fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, bruising and pain, they said.

The chair of the patient group, Henry Smith, an MP whose mother died from acute myeloid leukaemia in 2012, said: “Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and someone is diagnosed every 14 minutes.

“Delays in diagnosis can have a severe impact on an individual’s chance of survival, as well as on their quality of life.”

Commenting on the report, professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ““Each type of blood cancer can present in a varied way and GPs will base their decisions around what diagnostic testing is most appropriate on the symptoms being displayed by, and the unique circumstances potentially affecting, the patient in front of us.

“Any decision to pursue opportunistic testing must not be undertaken lightly as GPs need a good scientific evidence base before they order any investigations.”

Should you give homeless people money? Absolutely | Tamsen Courtenay

Gloucester city council’s poster depicting a faceless homeless person in a hoodie implies they are not worth our compassion. This is a travesty of human decency

The Gloucester council homelessness advert


The Gloucester council advert. ‘No one in their right mind thinks it’s a clever scam to sit on a freezing pavement suffering the humiliation of asking for a few coins.’ Photograph: Gloucester Labour

Have the Tory members of Gloucester city council been busy reading George Orwell’s 1984 in their book club recently?

It seems someone read the bit at the back where Orwell describes how the political language, Newspeak – with its restricted grammar and limited vocabulary – is designed to distort how people think and control public attitudes. Posters were put up in Gloucester showing someone wearing a hoodie, under the headline of “Are you really helping homeless people?”, suggesting that people sleeping rough are not homeless, but “in accommodation, receiving support and benefits”. This sinister use of Newspeak tells the upstanding citizenry to stop feeling bad about not helping those in need, under the pretence of educating and informing. It even offered a subtle sense of justification that – weirdly – help isn’t really help at all. That’s not Newspeak, it’s doublespeak. Orwell was writing about a totalitarian state. We should be worried.

So that’s the propaganda. What about the fact?

‘Homelessness caused me pain, stress and anger’ – video

During the weeks I spent listening to, and recording, homeless people in London – first-hand accounts of their lives are in my book Four Feet Under – I met a man called Benji who said, “Come on, why are we homeless, for God’s sake? Yeah, I’m going to chuck all my gear away, empty my bank account and give it to somebody and sleep on the street. Sure. Right, I’m going to do that!”

No one in their right mind thinks it’s a clever scam to sit on a freezing pavement suffering the humiliation of asking for a few coins. And, frankly, there are many people out there who are seriously mentally ill and are chaotically struggling to stay alive. And if there are scammers? So what? They would be such an insanely tiny percentage that they are of no interest or relevance to the big picture: why are our streets starting to look like Hogarth sketches?

I never met a single person who likes begging. Most were mortified. Some flat out refused to do it. It is a horrible part of a horrible life, lived out in the open, scrutinised and judged. Hunger, loneliness, physical illness, being beaten up, sometimes raped or set alight are the diet of the homeless. But you can’t see all this under the tatty clothes and worn faces, sat down there somewhere at knee level. You certainly won’t see it in the poster with the faceless, hoodied man – he is meant to radiate menace.

Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice of the criminal classes, despite efforts to convince you otherwise. It is barely a life at all.

People are homeless for lots of reasons – fleeing domestic violence or sexual abuse, loss of a job and a partner often at the same time, leaving the care system with scant resources and being severely mental ill – to name a few.

Lots of people just can’t manage life and when it falls apart, so do they.

Without exception the hugerange of people I had the joy of spending time with were in terrible pain. No one was having fun living like this and all were clinging desperately to the idea that it might, just might, stop and life would get better.

The poster used a crude caricature of a homeless person feeding the notion that a person who is faceless is a non-person. I can’t tell you how many homeless people I met who said the worst thing of all was knowing you were invisible, that you didn’t really exist at all.

Now it’s no longer enough to blame them for their plight – we must criminalise them too. Antisocial behaviour orders and a panoply of other bits of nasty legislation all conspire to make homelessness appear villainous and dishonest.

Should you give them money? Absolutely.

They need it – and assuming you are not the person who will solve homelessness with a click of your fingers – it’s the least you can do. Sleeping bags, hot food and painkillers are also welcome. This idea that homeless people “can’t be trusted” with the money you give is a wicked get-out. They are not children. They are not morons. They are homeless and they are sad. Many need medical and psychiatric help. If all this was available – as that monstrous poster suggests – then there would not be a homelessness problem in the first place. Your money will be spent on food, newspapers, coffees and toiletries. The majority try to beg enough to get a hostel for the night (anywhere up to £20-odd a night.) Some – but by no means all – will spend it on alcohol or drugs.

It’s this that seems to bother some people. Drug use isn’t a sign of moral failure or craven attitudes. The people I met who took Class A drugs had very little choice. Without a daily hit (which costs money) they will, within hours, become extremely ill: vomiting, diarrhoea and excruciating muscle spasms are just some of what they would endure, and having diarrhoea in the middle of Oxford Street isn’t an option for most people. And believe me, after a few cold days sitting out in the cold and damp doing my “research”, I barely made it through the front door in the evening before pouring a very large gin. I did that every night I got home. For people living on the street booze can help dilute the shame and embarrassment of begging.

So let’s put drink and drugs to one side. It’s a diversion, worthy of Orwell’s fictional Oceanian government. If our government really gave a damn they would have provided the services to help the vast numbers who need it and – crucially – would be creating a society that produced fewer people in this state of total despair and ruin. Not one based on greed, selling off social housing stock and cutting benefits and mental health provision. And certainly not one that tells us it is OK not to help the needy.

That Gloucester poster? It heralds the destruction of the innate sense of decency that I believe most of us share. Don’t let that happen.

Tamsen Courtenay is the author of Four Feet Under (Unbound), a collection of 30 stories of homeless people in their own words

Workplaces ‘should cater for menopause as they do for pregnancy’

Workplaces should start catering for the menopause in a comparable way to pregnancy, according to one of Britain’s leading women’s health experts.

Myra Hunter, emeritus professor of clinical health psychology at King’s College London said that menopausal symptoms remained a “taboo issue” in many workplaces and, while policies to support pregnant women are now standard, there is still little awareness of the impact that the menopause can have on women who are often at the peak of their career.

“Often there’s a will to address this among managers, but they just don’t know how to talk about it,” said Hunter. “Women want it to be raised if appropriate. They don’t want to be treated as ill, they just want some understanding and awareness of it.”

The call comes as Hunter and colleagues publish the results of one of the first major studies looking at how symptoms such as hot flushes affect women at work. The study, which tracked 124 female employees in the public and private sectors, found that such symptoms could have a significant impact, but that following a simple programme of cognitive behavioural therapy, delivered via a self-help booklet, hugely reduced the degree to which women felt their symptoms were problematic.

The menopause occurs at the age of 51 years, on average, and the way women experience this transition can vary a lot. About 80% of women experience some hot flushes and night sweats and for 20 to 30% these symptoms are severe enough to have a significant impact on quality of life. Some women also report tiredness, “brain fog”, mood swings and loss of confidence. For some women, the transition period lasts just a few years and in others it can last a decade.

There is no strong evidence that the menopause causes women to leave jobs in large numbers or that it has a negative impact on professional performance. “The evidence we’ve got from surveys, it’s subjective, but it suggests that women might over-compensate,” said Hunter.

The trial recruited 124 women who were struggling with their symptoms (the women experienced 56 flushes on average each week). Half the women were provided with a self-help booklet that provided guidance on how to cope with work stress, how to discuss the menopause at work and which challenged negative stereotypes associated with the menopause, such as “being past it”.

The booklet also set women cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) exercises, in which they were asked to write down the thoughts they have during hot flushes, for instance, and then challenge these beliefs.

“If a woman has a hot flush half the anxiety is about how people see her,” said Hunter. “There’s embarrassment and anxiety about being joked about and a big concept is hiding symptoms in fear of being ridiculed.”

“Really, we shouldn’t feel like that and when women verbalise it, it does appear ridiculous,” she added.

Women who were given the booklet reported a noticeable reduction in both their symptoms and how problematic they were. When they were followed up after five months, the number of hot flushes they experienced was reduced by one third, they reported better quality sleep and viewed their symptoms more neutrally. In interviews after the trial, 82% said the intervention had reduced the impact of their symptoms and 37% had spoken about their menopause to their line manager.

Kathy Abernethy, chair of the British Menopause Society and a specialist nurse, welcomed the work, saying that a social shift was underway with people generally becoming more open about discussing the menopause.

This trend, she said, has been partly driven by celebrities who “have decided that it’s not something embarrassing to talk about”. Far more women in their 50s are also in work than in the past. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, the proportion of women aged 50 to 64 with jobs has risen by more than 50% in the past 30 years.

“Women simply want to know workplaces are taking it seriously,” Abernethy added. “Awareness is a key thing. If managers are aware of the menopause it means the whole thing becomes a non-issue, like pregnancy.”

Tina Weaver, CEO of the charity Wellbeing of Women, which funded the research, said the study offered practical and accessible interventions to help women. “It’s alarming so many women suffer from these debilitating symptoms and feel so unsupported during the menopause that they drop out of the work force,” she said. “This natural process has been overlooked and considered a taboo for too long.”

The findings are published in the journal Menopause.

‘Some days I felt like I needed a badge saying “Stand clear: menopausal woman approaching!”’

Angela Bonnett


Angela Bonnett found professional skills that she’d come to take for granted suddenly foundering during the menopause. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Angela Bonnett, 57, had a successful career in finance and by her early 50s was a senior project manager at a well-known financial institution in the City. “I’d spent 30 years being an excellent performer at the top of my tree,” she said.

Five years ago, she entered the menopause and found professional skills that she’d come to take for granted – her razor sharp memory and a cool disposition – suddenly foundering. “I felt all those things were falling away,” Bonnett said.

She experienced hot flushes in meetings, night sweats that disturbed her sleep, sudden mood swings, problems concentrating and irritation. “Everything that you’ve ever read about the menopause seemed to happen to some degree,” she said. “Some days I felt like I needed a badge saying ‘Stand clear: menopausal woman approaching!’”

In work, she noticed herself making careless mistakes, struggling to recall names or conversations she’d had a day earlier – “things that were just alien to me”.

She took detailed notes to prompt her memory and worked harder to compensate for tiredness. She began wearing layered clothes so she could “quickly disrobe” when she was hit by a hot flush in a meeting and took to carrying a fan she had picked up on holiday in Spain.

“Initially I had some reservations that people would know why I’m doing this,” she said. “But in the end I thought, either I’m going to explode or I need to cool down.”

As a rule, Bonnett did not share personal problems at work. “I prefer to keep the two separate,” she said. And the menopause felt like a particularly personal experience. “Whether you want someone to know your periods have stopped – it’s quite core to who you are.”

Angela Bonnett


Bonnett said that having support at work made dealing with the menopause easier. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

However, when she found herself snapping at a colleague – a reaction that was completely out of character – she decided she needed to raise the issue with her manager.

“Previously I’d been quite sensitive in situations at work, but from nowhere there would come a really sharp, nasty response to people that made the whole room gasp,” she recalled.

The lack of an established protocol made raising the issue at work feel potentially awkward. Eventually she emailed her line manager, a man in his mid-30s, with a newspaper article in which a high level lawyer described the challenges she’d faced at work due to menopausal symptoms. “This allowed me to introduce the subject using outside information and explain what I was going through,” she said.

Bonnett says her boss was not unwilling to help, he was simply oblivious. “It was an education for him. He said ‘I had no idea you were going through this’. I said ‘It’s because I’ve been working extra hard to make sure I carry on performing’.”

Once aware of her situation, Bonnett’s manager was understanding and reassured her that she should feel free to come in late or leave earlier, if she needed to. The message was: whatever you need to do to cope, that’s fine.

“Just having that reassurance made it a lot easier,” Bonnett said. “I didn’t need to do any of those things, but knowing he knew was sufficient and removed a lot of the anxiety.”

Kidney disease patients should keep taking their medicines | Letters

We are concerned that the headline on your article (Kidney drug ‘may do more harm than good’, say experts, 25 November) is misleading and could result in kidney patients stopping taking their medicines. When your kidneys do not work properly, dangerous levels of chemicals like potassium or phosphate can build up in your body. People who have kidney disease are usually given dietary advice as to how to help restrict their intake alongside medicines that bind these chemicals so that they can be excreted; and there is clear evidence that phosphate binders reduce levels of phosphate. Diet alone is not usually enough to reduce these levels, so medicines to help do this are important as without them levels could become too high and result in an increased chance of death.

Nobody should stop taking their medicines after reading this article. If any of your readers are concerned then they need to speak to their doctor about the best ways to reduce phosphate in their diet in combination with taking the right phosphate binder for them and if they should swap to a calcium-free version. Undoubtedly more research is required because evidence in this area is changing all the time and what patients need is clear, simple guidance that they know they can trust – not misleading and potentially dangerous headlines.
Fiona Loud
Director of policy, Kidney Care UK

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Kidney disease patients should keep taking their medicines | Letters

We are concerned that the headline on your article (Kidney drug ‘may do more harm than good’, say experts, 25 November) is misleading and could result in kidney patients stopping taking their medicines. When your kidneys do not work properly, dangerous levels of chemicals like potassium or phosphate can build up in your body. People who have kidney disease are usually given dietary advice as to how to help restrict their intake alongside medicines that bind these chemicals so that they can be excreted; and there is clear evidence that phosphate binders reduce levels of phosphate. Diet alone is not usually enough to reduce these levels, so medicines to help do this are important as without them levels could become too high and result in an increased chance of death.

Nobody should stop taking their medicines after reading this article. If any of your readers are concerned then they need to speak to their doctor about the best ways to reduce phosphate in their diet in combination with taking the right phosphate binder for them and if they should swap to a calcium-free version. Undoubtedly more research is required because evidence in this area is changing all the time and what patients need is clear, simple guidance that they know they can trust – not misleading and potentially dangerous headlines.
Fiona Loud
Director of policy, Kidney Care UK

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Kidney disease patients should keep taking their medicines | Letters

We are concerned that the headline on your article (Kidney drug ‘may do more harm than good’, say experts, 25 November) is misleading and could result in kidney patients stopping taking their medicines. When your kidneys do not work properly, dangerous levels of chemicals like potassium or phosphate can build up in your body. People who have kidney disease are usually given dietary advice as to how to help restrict their intake alongside medicines that bind these chemicals so that they can be excreted; and there is clear evidence that phosphate binders reduce levels of phosphate. Diet alone is not usually enough to reduce these levels, so medicines to help do this are important as without them levels could become too high and result in an increased chance of death.

Nobody should stop taking their medicines after reading this article. If any of your readers are concerned then they need to speak to their doctor about the best ways to reduce phosphate in their diet in combination with taking the right phosphate binder for them and if they should swap to a calcium-free version. Undoubtedly more research is required because evidence in this area is changing all the time and what patients need is clear, simple guidance that they know they can trust – not misleading and potentially dangerous headlines.
Fiona Loud
Director of policy, Kidney Care UK

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Kidney disease patients should keep taking their medicines | Letters

We are concerned that the headline on your article (Kidney drug ‘may do more harm than good’, say experts, 25 November) is misleading and could result in kidney patients stopping taking their medicines. When your kidneys do not work properly, dangerous levels of chemicals like potassium or phosphate can build up in your body. People who have kidney disease are usually given dietary advice as to how to help restrict their intake alongside medicines that bind these chemicals so that they can be excreted; and there is clear evidence that phosphate binders reduce levels of phosphate. Diet alone is not usually enough to reduce these levels, so medicines to help do this are important as without them levels could become too high and result in an increased chance of death.

Nobody should stop taking their medicines after reading this article. If any of your readers are concerned then they need to speak to their doctor about the best ways to reduce phosphate in their diet in combination with taking the right phosphate binder for them and if they should swap to a calcium-free version. Undoubtedly more research is required because evidence in this area is changing all the time and what patients need is clear, simple guidance that they know they can trust – not misleading and potentially dangerous headlines.
Fiona Loud
Director of policy, Kidney Care UK

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Kidney disease patients should keep taking their medicines | Letters

We are concerned that the headline on your article (Kidney drug ‘may do more harm than good’, say experts, 25 November) is misleading and could result in kidney patients stopping taking their medicines. When your kidneys do not work properly, dangerous levels of chemicals like potassium or phosphate can build up in your body. People who have kidney disease are usually given dietary advice as to how to help restrict their intake alongside medicines that bind these chemicals so that they can be excreted; and there is clear evidence that phosphate binders reduce levels of phosphate. Diet alone is not usually enough to reduce these levels, so medicines to help do this are important as without them levels could become too high and result in an increased chance of death.

Nobody should stop taking their medicines after reading this article. If any of your readers are concerned then they need to speak to their doctor about the best ways to reduce phosphate in their diet in combination with taking the right phosphate binder for them and if they should swap to a calcium-free version. Undoubtedly more research is required because evidence in this area is changing all the time and what patients need is clear, simple guidance that they know they can trust – not misleading and potentially dangerous headlines.
Fiona Loud
Director of policy, Kidney Care UK

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Kidney disease patients should keep taking their medicines | Letters

We are concerned that the headline on your article (Kidney drug ‘may do more harm than good’, say experts, 25 November) is misleading and could result in kidney patients stopping taking their medicines. When your kidneys do not work properly, dangerous levels of chemicals like potassium or phosphate can build up in your body. People who have kidney disease are usually given dietary advice as to how to help restrict their intake alongside medicines that bind these chemicals so that they can be excreted; and there is clear evidence that phosphate binders reduce levels of phosphate. Diet alone is not usually enough to reduce these levels, so medicines to help do this are important as without them levels could become too high and result in an increased chance of death.

Nobody should stop taking their medicines after reading this article. If any of your readers are concerned then they need to speak to their doctor about the best ways to reduce phosphate in their diet in combination with taking the right phosphate binder for them and if they should swap to a calcium-free version. Undoubtedly more research is required because evidence in this area is changing all the time and what patients need is clear, simple guidance that they know they can trust – not misleading and potentially dangerous headlines.
Fiona Loud
Director of policy, Kidney Care UK

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Kidney disease patients should keep taking their medicines | Letters

We are concerned that the headline on your article (Kidney drug ‘may do more harm than good’, say experts, 25 November) is misleading and could result in kidney patients stopping taking their medicines. When your kidneys do not work properly, dangerous levels of chemicals like potassium or phosphate can build up in your body. People who have kidney disease are usually given dietary advice as to how to help restrict their intake alongside medicines that bind these chemicals so that they can be excreted; and there is clear evidence that phosphate binders reduce levels of phosphate. Diet alone is not usually enough to reduce these levels, so medicines to help do this are important as without them levels could become too high and result in an increased chance of death.

Nobody should stop taking their medicines after reading this article. If any of your readers are concerned then they need to speak to their doctor about the best ways to reduce phosphate in their diet in combination with taking the right phosphate binder for them and if they should swap to a calcium-free version. Undoubtedly more research is required because evidence in this area is changing all the time and what patients need is clear, simple guidance that they know they can trust – not misleading and potentially dangerous headlines.
Fiona Loud
Director of policy, Kidney Care UK

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters