Dr Elizabeth Rhodes, Consultant Haematologist

Dr Elizabeth Rhodes is a Consultant Haematologist at St George’s and Clincial Director for Specialist Medicine at the Trust.

 What does your role normally involve?

A key part of my role at St George’s is looking after patients with sickle cell disease and thalassaemia; these are inherited blood conditions that can affect the whole body.

I work as part of a multi-disciplinary team – which includes doctors, specialist nurses and psychologists – and we see and review patients in clinic, and on the wards. Patients with these conditions often need to be admitted to hospital with severe pain, so we help them by providing medication, or support them with self-management of their symptoms.

As a specialist centre, we also have over 100 patients who attend St George’s regulasrly for blood transfusions – these patients need to come to hospital for this every 2-8 weeks, depending on their needs.

How has it been affected by the current situation?

Our patients have been identified as a group who are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 outbreak. This means that, unless they need to come to St George’s for essential medical interventions, patients need to self isolate for 12 weeks and not leave the house. So it is a really difficult time for all our patients.

As a team, we have had to rapidly work out how to help keep our patients safe, whilst still providing them with the care they need. This has meant the whole team providing support for patients, predominantly by phone calls, so reducing the need for patients to come into hospital.

Trying to keep our patients updated about the situation has been a major part of our work – we need patients to know what they need to do to look after themselves at home, and how to access medical care when they need to. We’ve also worked hard to re-assure them whatever happens, we will be there for them. We’ve also changed how our wards and day units normally operate, as well as the way we work with colleagues in the Emergency Department, to keep everyone as safe as possible.

You treat patients with quite specialist conditions – what are you doing to help and support them?

 Trying to keep in touch with our patients has been key to our plan so far. We have written letters that are going out to all of our patients. We have also updated the information on the Trust website, which includes the latest Government advice, information about support groups, plus well being advice during self-isolation.

We are returning all calls and queries we receive, and we will continue to try and be as responsive as we possibly can, whilst also playing our part in the wider organisational response to Covid-19, and the increase in patients we are already seeing. We are using social media to stay in touch with patients, and keep the message going. I may also have promised quite a few patients a big party when this is all over!

Is there anything you have been really impressed or surprised by?

Like everyone, I am amazed by the speed and calmness of the changes that are happening around the hospital. In particular, things that have really helped our patients include the speed with which our pharmacy team has set up home delivery of hospital prescribed medications. For our patients, every little thing we can do to help them stay at home is really important. We have also been really supported by our day units, apheresis staff and blood banks who are working hard to continue the necessary transfusion programme our patients need.