Gap in nurses' knowledge of sickle cell disease 'unacceptable'

Sickle cell disease not covered properly at undergraduate level, say nurse leaders.

Sickle cell disease not covered properly at undergraduate level, say nurse leaders

Professor Elizabeth Anionwu. Picture: John Behets

All nursing students should leave university with knowledge of sickle cell disease, urges a nurse professor who pioneered a screening service for the disease.

Sickle cell disease is the name for a group of inherited conditions that mainly affects people of African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Eastern Mediterranean and Asian origin.

Missing from curricula

‘Student nurses in this country, and midwives, do not systematically get educated about sickle cell, it depends on the tutor,’ Dame Elizabeth Anionwu told the chief nursing officer's black and minority ethnic strategic advisory group’s annual conference on 27 October. ‘And it might also depend on the students to suggest it as a project. This is not acceptable,’ she said.

Professor Anionwu, a patron of the Sickle Cell Society, set up the first nurse-led sickle cell intervention and screening service in England. Now every baby in England is screened for the disease. 

Undergraduate education

During a panel discussion at the London conference, Professor Anionwu highlighted that the RCN had passed a resolution at last year’s congress to push for wider training on the disease, but urged delegates to lobby for greater awareness at undergraduate level.

‘We could all get together to get this changed – so that no student nurse leaves education without it.’

Sickle cell disease was a topic of much discussion at the conference.

Lagging behind

Brent Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Centre professional services director and senior specialist nurse consultant Lola Oni said sickle cell was the first disease to be defined at a molecular level.

‘And yet where are we? Patients in emergency departments are still being asked “what is sickle cell again?”. Imagine the nurse looking after you not knowing what sickle cell is and you are having a sickle cell crisis.’

Mandatory competency

Dr Oni said NHS Blood and Transplant suggests knowledge of the disease be made mandatory in emergency departments, and all health providers should work together to improve care.

‘We have been calling for this for so long, I am getting tired. And I’m hoping it’ll happen before I retire,’ Dr Oni said.

Raising concerns about the future, she added: ‘We need to think about the fact people like myself and other specialists are going to retire soon, but we haven’t got people coming up the ranks.’

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