Last month, Robin Gibb (of Bee Gees fame) hit the headlines after undergoing emergency surgery to remove a blood clot in his colon that caused perforation, whilst battling an unrelated illness in hospital.
When a celebrity is affected by a blood clot it is major news, but the problem is all too common and Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Trust is working proactively to lower the risk for all our patients.
Most people know of the link between long-haul flights and blood clots but few realise that any sustained period of immobility, such as through illness at home or a spell in hospital, can put them at risk and, in fact, the risk of acquiring DVT in hospital is 1000 times the risk of acquiring DVT on a long-haul flight. And it is not only older people who are in danger; younger, healthy people can also be at risk, as we have seen in the recent cases of Serena Williams and Andrew Flintoff.
The impact on the lives of those who develop clots is considerable. Added to the worry of developing a fatal embolism and the heightened risk of developing further clots, venous thromboembolism (VTE) causes pain, discomfort and disruption to home/work life through increased hospital stay, follow-up appointments and regular blood tests. Some people may experience side effects from treatment such as reduced mobility and there is the possibility of developing post thrombotic syndrome, which can occur up to two years after developing the initial clot.
VTE is a condition in which a blood clot (thrombus) forms in a vein. This most commonly occurs in the ‘deep veins’ in the legs, thighs, or pelvis, and is known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The majority of deaths are caused by part of the clot ‘breaking off’, travelling around the body, and eventually blocking an artery in the lung. This is known as pulmonary embolism (PE), and is nearly always fatal. Together, DVT and PE are known as VTE.
PE tends to happen among people who have recently had surgery, particularly those who have had major surgery on the hips or legs, been injured, or been confined to bed rest for some time. It can also strike after long haul flights.
The charity Lifeblood estimates that 32,000 people a year die from blood clots after an operation – more than the combined toll from breast cancer, prostate tumours, MRSA and AIDS.
Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is hosting VTE Awareness Week, as part of National Thrombosis Week, to help get this message out, particularly to patients who come into hospital. Both the staff and patients have a major part to play in the prevention of VTE in hospital or following a stay in hospital and there has been an enormous drive across the Trust to ensure staff carry out VTE risk assessment on all patients.
We want to make patients aware of the risks and help them understand the steps they can take to reduce the risk to themselves. Patients may be asked to wear support stockings and be given blood thinners, as when is appropriate. The enhanced recovery programme, designed to help patients become more mobile sooner following an operation, will also help reduce the instances of patients acquiring VTE.
During VTE Awareness Week, which starts Tuesday 7 May, there will be advice to staff, patients and visitors at key points in the hospitals, given out by VeriTiE the Clot, the VTE mascot, used to help deliver the message. Jo Barnett, VTE Project Lead Nurse, will also be working with Dr Philpott, Consultant Haematologist, and Langelihle Dube, whose sister sadly passed away from a VTE. Langelihle has been working with the Trust to tell her story about her sister, to try to raise awareness and to help prevent the same thing happening to others.
“Often people think that only older patients can develop VTE, when in fact young, healthy people can also suffer”, say Jo Barnett.
“It’s so important that people are aware of the danger of VTE and the fact that it can also be so easily prevented”.
Over the past year, the Trust has been working hard to increase the number of patients being assessed for VTE, and has put huge emphasis on the importance of assessing all patients. In November 2011 the Trust recorded that at least 90% of all patients were assessed, in line with national expectations and has set itself a Trust target of 100%. .
“Patient safety is our absolute top priority, so why stop at 90%? We want every one of our patients to feel safe in the knowledge that if they are being cared for in our hospitals, they can be sure that we will minimise the risk of any occurrences of VTE”, adds Jo.
The Trust is hosting a VTE information point at Wexham Park Hospital on Wednesday 9 May at 10am. If you would like to interview Jo Barnett, Dr Philpott or Langelihle Dube or would like to send a reporter/photographer to visit the information point, please contact Victoria Murphy, Press and Communications Manager, on 01753 633564.
Notes to Newsdesk
Approximately two thirds of all blood clots occur during or after a stay in hospital. Any patient can be at risk of developing a VTE, although there are a number of factors that can increase the chance, such as if you have cancer or are undergoing cancer treatment, are less mobile than usual for more than three days, are due to have surgery or are over 60 years old.
There are a number of simple actions that, when done both in hospital or at home, can significantly prevent a VTE, including:
• Drink lots of water – this helps keep blood flowing freely
• Keep moving your legs – if you are not able to get out of bed, move your legs regularly
• Walk around – moving around as much as you can stops the blood from slowing down
• In hospital, wear anti-embolism stockings or other devices provided
To help make sure that all patients are assessed, the Trust has a number of processes in place, these are:
• Establishing link nurses for all ward areas to ensure that training and up-to date information is available in all areas
• Production of a quarterly newsletter for all staff reminding them to assess every patient
• Monthly link nurse/VTE awareness days
• Clinical auditing related to VTE to identify how work is improving patient safety and what areas need developing further
The Trust is also working towards becoming an exemplar centre for VTE, hoping to set best practice within the region for neighbouring Trusts and providing resources for NHS and independent healthcare through books, a website, regional and national workshops and a VTE e-learning course.
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