Birmingham blood cancer patient dies of Covid after ward outbreak

By Michele Paduano
BBC Midlands health correspondent

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image copyrightReuters
image captionThere have been two Covid outbreaks on a specialist ward for blood cancer patients at Birmingham's QE Hospital since October

A 43-year-old man being treated for blood cancer has died of Covid after contracting it in a hospital outbreak.

He had received stem cell transplants in an open bay at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, despite virus guidelines saying such patients should be treated in isolation.

His family, who have asked not to be identified, said they were "surprised" he had been on an open ward.

The hospital said it would now treat such patients in isolated side rooms.

An outbreak of Covid among stem cell transplant patients was reported on the ward earlier this month - the second there since October.

Transplants had to be halted amid the autumn outbreak.

The hospital department was circulating the national guidelines in December, but transplants continued in open bays.

The specialist unit, known as ward 625, is meant to be a Covid-free zone, meaning patients are only allowed into it once they have tested negative.

That is because of the increased risks for blood cancer patients if they catch coronavirus, with one study suggesting that due to compromised immunity, they were 57% more likely than other cancer patients to suffer severe disease.

Four people contracted Covid during the October outbreak, a further seven patients tested positive in February - the 43-year-old was one of three stem cell patients in the same bay.

Documents seen by the BBC show a decision at the hospital to group stem cell transplant patients together in four-person bays.

'Rather strange'

A statement from the parents of the deceased, a musician, said: "We were surprised that he was moved on to an open ward.

"It seemed rather strange, but the care he received before he died was exemplary."

Experts have told the BBC that if he had not had Covid, the man should have had a 60-75% chance of living for five years.

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) NHS Trust, which runs the site, said: "There was an agreed policy by the transplant team at UHB to manage stem cell transplant recipients within strictly managed and screened cohorts; either in side rooms on Ward 625 or for selected patients in dedicated patient bays, where all patients had been shielded, swabbed and screened for Covid before and during admission for stem cell transplants.

"Since the start of the Covid pandemic in February 2020, 168 allogeneic donor and autologous stem cell transplants have been performed on Ward 625 at [the hospital], and the team is deeply saddened to have experienced the first transplant patient death from Covid-19 pneumonia.

"Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with the patient's family and friends."

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