Monday, 24 August 2015

Volunteering at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust

As part of the Trust's commitment to volunteering, we've had the pleasure of welcoming two interns from the US to our office this Summer as part of a Study Abroad in London opportunity. To give a taste of what volunteering with us here in Aldgate, Leslie Drennan, one of these interns, gives an insight into her experience.

Spending a summer working in a city four thousand miles from everything I was familiar with was both intimidating and exciting at the start, but any fear I had was soon quelled by the brilliant and friendly staff at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Coming in, I knew I would be working with the Information and Support team, but wasn’t quite sure what that would entail.

As soon as I arrived, I was welcomed by my supervisor, James Atkins, and spent the next few days getting to know my way around the office and the other people I would be working with for the next seven weeks. The Information and Support team puts together packets of information about cystic fibrosis (CF) for schools, children and parents, as well as monitoring calls coming into the helpline so they can give appropriate advice to those who call in. I was eager to help in any way possible, so they immediately involved me in every project they were working on. I did everything from researching methods to better serve the CF community to helping fill out travel insurance forms.

Along the way, I learned a great deal about CF and how it impacts not only those who have it, but every person that comes into contact with it. The effects are not felt equally by every person, as there are almost two thousand forms of the condition. Life can be quite difficult for those dealing with lung or pancreatic issues. However, I think the most essential thing I learned was that a person’s attitude towards CF makes all the difference, both psychologically and physically. I was given an entirely new perspective on my own health because of how much I take for granted on a daily basis.

Jacqueline Ali, Head of Information and Support, set up two CF clinic visits for me after learning about my interest in becoming a psychologist. This rounded out my experience at the Trust as I got to see first-hand at how clinicians and patients must work closely with one another in order to best combat CF. Every person I worked with went out of their way to make me feel welcome and useful.


Overall, my experience at the Trust is one that I will always remember. Whether learning about best practice in the workplace or how to integrate myself into another culture, I’ve gained an immense amount from my placement. In fact, I’ve enjoyed my role in this charity so much that I am now considering going into non-profit work once I graduate from university. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for and with such driven, intelligent and pleasant people. My time at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has easily been the best part of coming to London.

Want to give some of your time to the fight against cystic fibrosis? Find out more about volunteering with us at 
cysticfibrosis.org.uk/volunteer

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Charlotte's Story - Facing Up to the Challenge of Adult Disability Benefit


 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is the new adult disability benefit, replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people aged 16 to 64 with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

Change can be a good thing but there’s always a risk of it going wrong – sometimes very wrong.

It’s a case of the latter that has motivated our Policy Manager Nick Medhurst  to write this blog post.

I’ll lay out my stall: I think PIP will work for some people with cystic fibrosis. It’s made up of two parts – one part provides financial support to help you with daily activities, and the other provides financial support with ‘mobility’ issues. So, in a sense, that is two potential support packages for ‘doing stuff’ and ‘getting around’.

I believe that if the letter of the law is applied, the majority of people with cystic fibrosis will get the support they deserve to help them with their daily activities.

I also believe that despite the myriad challenges that people with cystic fibrosis face in getting around – from breathlessness, fatigue, coughing fits and pain, to fear of infection and anxiety – that many people who desperately need that support won’t have any chance to get the support they deserve, because of another pathetic piece of miserly, ill-judged policy making.

So, theoretically, if you don’t need support to get around but some financial help to overcome daily barriers to leading a normal life will go a long way, then PIP will work for you.

However, theory is only theory. Many months ago, I was contacted by a mother in distress. Her daughter, Charlotte, was unwell and struggling. She was turning 16 and was told she must apply for PIP, as she was no longer eligible for children’s DLA or adult DLA given the change to PIP.

This dedicated, caring, loving mother was caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare of bad information, blind-alleys and complex processes. She and her daughter embarked on the PIP application without any support or quality advice and information. The government’s top-down, blunderbuss approach and insistence on farming out stages of the process to private companies meant that Charlotte and her mother had a million and one different points of contact but nobody could give them straight answers and they continued to forge ahead in the dark, as part of an experimental system.

Charlotte’s mother rang me. I did what I could to explain the theory of how the system should work and to help her make sense of the jumble of loose ends that was, laughably, referred to as an application ‘pathway’. We discussed options, plans-of-action, tips and strategies.

But I couldn’t help Charlotte how I would have wanted to. In the end, the system failed her. And then kicked her whilst she was down.

Charlotte, unwell and upset, was made to beg for the meagre support she had been denied – for both parts of the benefit – in front of a judge, at a tribunal.

She was denied again.

The complexities and bureaucracy of the system they entered is enough to numb the mind and becalm the drive and ambition of even the most resourceful. To subject Charlotte and her mother to such miserable and intimidating treatment, at such a difficult time, is heartless enough to be labelled cruel. What on earth did the endless stream of nameless officials think they were achieving?

It is my view that the individuals involved should feel ashamed as professionals and annoyed as taxpayers. What an utter waste of everyone’s time, money and energies.

Not everyone with cystic fibrosis will need welfare support but the reality is that most do and for the vast majority it genuinely is a lifeline, in the sense that it breaks down some of those financial and logistical barriers and facilitates people going out and living their lives and achieving their ambitions.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust is utterly committed to ensuring that people with cystic fibrosis get the support they deserve on time, at the right time, first time. That should appeal to everyone, from the government, to the families and individuals that we exist for.

We are working directly with an equally committed group of specialist cystic fibrosis social workers from across the UK to help shape and design our work and ensure that our advice and action is as impactful and effective as possible.

Our Support Services team provide a helpline to share advice and information on a wide-range of welfare topics and handle many other issues and questions besides.

Our Policy and Public Affairs teams work to understand these challenges thoroughly and ensure that those who can make a difference, like politicians, know what a positive change is.

Our Media team will continue to speak out on behalf of everyone with cystic fibrosis to help everyone understand this complex and cruel condition.

Charlotte is heading to university this September. She will be realising a life-long ambition and embracing one of life’s best opportunities – to learn and excel and better herself.

What an abject shame that the government has missed the opportunity to support Charlotte to defy those challenges and meet the obstacles that cystic fibrosis throws her way head on. She’ll do it on her own, with the support of her loving family.

I wouldn’t call that the Big Society. Far from it. That’s our community and we’ll fight to the last.

 

If you want more information about cystic fibrosis and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), please read our guidance.

Have you applied for PIP? Tell us about your experience by emailing campaigns@cysticfibrosis.org.uk

 

 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

'One Born Every Minute' - CF and Pregnancy

Channel 4's 'One Born Every Minute' tonight (9pm) features Rhiannon Dunn, a mother with CF having her third child. As people with CF live longer, having a family becomes more of a possibility, but it doesn't take away from the challenges that CF brings on top of parenting a child, let alone three!

Rhiannon tells us in her own words how she manages the balance of CF and parenthood.




The hours, days and weeks simply bleed into one another since becoming a mother to three beautiful, strong-willed and noisy children, but that's what I always dreamed of so I couldn't possibly complain… well maybe once in a while, when I realise I'm drowning but not from my cystic fibrosis!

I was born in 1988 and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (double DF508) through a sweat test at eight months’ old due to “failure to thrive”. It was good to get the diagnosis as my mum couldn't take being called an over-protective mother by doctors and now I have learned myself that a mother’s intuition is real.

As a child I had both hospital admission and home IV therapy and I always had access to good nutrition even though I struggled gaining weight. Then I hit my teens, at 15 I met my husband and we have been childhood sweethearts ever since. We have been together 11 years this year and I'm lucky to have him as he is supportive and there right by my side through CF and the journey that is motherhood.

Being a mother to three young children (and don't forget the three cats!) and having cystic fibrosis along with diabetes is tough; I won't lie or sugar coat anything. The overwhelming loving motherly instinct I always feel is always tainted by guilt of deciding to bring a child into a world where I know I may not be here to help see and nuture them right through, due to the life expectancy of a CF patient, but then I have never been one to let CF get in the way.



I have always been bold, confident and wanting to prove people wrong, so we took the marriage and parenthood route & never looked back.

Our daily routines are more time consuming, demanding and nonstop, more than ever on top of my medical needs, and it takes good, sound management to juggle everything so it's home IVs through a portacath. Online groceries delivered to our front door and plenty of take away dinners have become the norm as something has to give, right?

Our home? How do I keep that clean? I don't: I had to admit defeat and bring in extra help and hire a cleaner otherwise I would be 10 feet under! I'm on the go 16 hours a day, juggling CF and three young children, the novelty of school runs has well and truly worn off, I can tell you that for a fact.

Believe when I say babies are easy but school-age children and driving across the city for extra-curricular activities, play dates and not to mention their own appointments when you have a child with their own disability, are things I didn't plan for. But I'm thankful all the same, I have the opportunity and privilege to have this life; I'm a very luck lady indeed.

We decided to agree to be filmed for Channel 4’s ‘One Born Every Minute’ series seven to raise awareness of CF, empower and offer reassurance to women who have the same genetic illness as me and to get that out to the public, so to do that, what better way to get people’s attention than to get naked on TV!

So I hope you all enjoy watching me losing my dignity on national TV because I know we had a fantastic experience recording it and would do it all over again.

Ps not really - my husband’s booked in for a vasectomy for two weeks’ time, ha! Three babies is more than enough!

Learn more about issues around cystic fibrosis and pregnancy, including fertility.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Welcome to Hack It Up!

Yesterday, we launched Hack It Up!, our new online colloboration and innovation platform designed to bring the CF community together so we can all work on the challenges cystic fibrosis brings.

Today our Community Manager, Emma Lake, who will be acting as the facilitator on Hack It Up! introduces herself and the platform



Hi, I’m Emma, the facilitator at Hack It Up! I have cystic fibrosis and I believe passionately that everyone with the condition and those who help and support us, both at home and in hospital, should help shape the future, through the discussions and decisions that affect our lives.

Our insight and experience is uniquely valuable, we are the ones who are truly experts in living with cystic fibrosis and we need to drive change, delivering impact based on our needs and in our interests.

That’s why I’m thrilled to be a part of Hack it Up, an innovative platform to make our voices heard on the issues that matter.

I am really excited about the first two challenges we have to discuss, and can’t wait to start exploring ideas and sharing our collective expertise.


In the first challenge, we want to find out the tricks and techniques people have developed to manage their CF while still living the life they want to lead.


Together with people with CF, healthcare professionals and industry, the Cystic FibrosisTrust is developing a project called SmartCareCF, to find better, smarter ways of managing care. Before we look ahead though, we need to look at what’s happening right now. What works for you? How do you use technology to keep one step ahead?-


At the same time, we are exploring how being active can help keep lungs healthy for longer. In our second challenge we want to know what activity means to you. What do you do to try and stay healthy? How does it make you feel?


So, get stuck in! Join us in Hack it Up and give us your views and share your experience– there’s a whole community waiting to listen, to learn and to connect.


Once you’ve joined, please invite other people you know who understand life with cystic fibrosis, such as parents, partners, friends, employers and colleagues. I’ve already invited my mum, my husband and my best friend!



Together, we can change the world of cystic fibrosis and shape a better tomorrow.  We just have to get stuck in!

This is an edited version of a blog post from Hack It Up! Join the conversation at www.hackitup.org

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Drop in Donors: What the organ donation statistics tell us

Yesterday NHSBT published figures revealing the first overall drop in organ donation in the UK for more than a decade. Public Affairs Manager Darren O’ Keefe talks about what these figures tell us about soft opt-out, public attitudes and the need to talk to your family and friends about your wishes.

New statistics released by NHS Blood and Transplant yesterday for 2014/15 show a 5% decrease on organ donation across the UK since 2013/14. This is the first decrease in 11 years, showing there is no room for complacency when it comes to ensuring as many people as possible receive this amazing gift of life.

Interestingly, the only nation that has not shown a decrease in donations is Wales, where the move to soft opt-out for organ donation in December this year has been preceded by years of high-profile debate about organ donation. The lesson here is that we must keep people talking about organ donation and sharing their wishes to donate with their families. Especially given that figures show family consent rates are below 60% and families are much more likely to agree to donation going ahead if they know it is what their loved one wanted.

The subject of soft opt-out stimulates conversation and it’s a policy we support. We are encouraged to see Wales take the lead on it and Northern Ireland and Scotland exploring legislation on the issue. However, it is not acceptable to "wait and see" what happens in Wales; this will take years – years that the many people with cystic fibrosis and other conditions across the UK waiting for a donor just don't have. This is why we will continue to support the soft opt-out legislation in Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as urging England to explore the issue as well.


The Cystic Fibrosis Trust is working tirelessly to ensure that people with cystic fibrosis are able to receive the lung transplant they may come to depend on. We have made a great deal of progress through the ‘Hope for More’ campaign to ensure the most is made of the donated lungs that are already available. This work risks being undermined if donation rates fall, so please sign up to the organ donation register if you haven’t already, make sure you share your decision, and encourage others to the do the same.

Organ donation features in tonight's BBC Two documentary on Great Ormond Street. Focusing on children who need double lung-transplants, tonight's epidsode those with cystic fibrosis. Watch it live on BBC Two, 9pm or catch up on BBCiPlayer

Friday, 10 July 2015

What the DLA ruling means for CF

Policy Manager Nick Medhurst takes us through Wednesday's landmark ruling on DLA and why it matters for people with cystic fibrosis.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s decision to stop Cameron Mathieson’s Disability Living Allowance (DLA) payments, as he lay in the hospital where he would eventually pass away, was unlawful,  with judges labelling it “grossly unfair”.

The government had argued that they were “paying twice” for Cameron’s care.

Cameron had cystic fibrosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other long-term health issues, and passed away in 2012 at the age of five, having spent over two years in hospital.

Cameron’s family continued to fight an injustice that hit them in their darkest hours, on behalf of everyone who has and will face the same situation.

The case revolves around a government directive, which demands that an individual’s benefits are stopped after they spend over 12 consecutive weeks in hospital. This is apparently “to prevent double provision” – in other words, the government don’t believe they should have to support a family financially, if they are already picking up the medical bill in hospital.

This fundamental misunderstanding – that an individual’s or a family’s need for financial support vanishes as soon as you step on to hospital grounds – is obviously wrong, something supported by research, conducted by Contact a Family and The Children’s Trust with families who found themselves in the same circumstances:

  • 99% said they provide more or the same level of care when their child is in hospital compared to when at home.
  • 93% said that their costs relating to their child's disability increase when their child is in hospital.
Increased travel, accommodation and food costs are simple examples but the reality is more complex and many families will find themselves significantly harder-up in such periods.

So Wednesday’s ruling is a very important victory in the fight to recognise the true costs of living with a long-term health condition or caring for someone with one.

Cameron’s father, Craig, told the BBC that the ruling “is a fantastic legacy for Cameron.” And its ramifications could be hugely significant for us as a community.

Cameron Mathieson was very young and very unwell when he passed away but his short life and his family’s courage to take forward the fight in his honour, struck a blow for everyone living with a long-term health condition who says that life is worth more than the cost of medical care.; We, as a society, must work hard to remove barriers to leading a happy and fulfilling life.

So when we hear nameless DWP spokespeople telling us that:

"Up to now, DLA has been suspended when a child is in receipt of long-term NHS inpatient care in order to prevent double provision - the taxpayer paying twice for the same thing. This has been the case for more than 20 years"

– we can say they were wrong and  that was 20 years too long, denying the basic support that can go some way to meeting an individual’s or a family’s non-medical needs, often when it was needed most. Their careless and miserly policy-making caused unnecessary pain and hardship.

For many people with cystic fibrosis – children and adults – welfare support is a vital lifeline, enabling work, socialising, education, exercise and physically getting to clinic. Cameron Mathieson’s legacy for the CF community is a renewed strength and resolve to tell society that we can turn a little basic support into much more and we can achieve great things.


For information on benefits, contact our helpline on 0300 373 1000.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Drawing breath



The last few days have seen some dramatic breaking news for the cystic fibrosis community, with results from the gene therapy Phase 2b clinical trial being published, NHS England announcing funding for ivacaftor for eight rare mutations, and the FDA in the US licensing the combination treatment Orkambi. In this blog, Trust Chief Executive Ed Owen looks back on a momentous couple of days, and how the power of the CF community shines through.

The last 48 hours has proved a significant step forward in our fight for a life unlimited by cystic fibrosis – and one that reinforces the collective power we have as a community, both national and global.

On Friday morning the results of the gene therapy Phase 2b clinical trial were published in the Lancet Respiratory journal. While not a surprise to those who took part in our sneak preview a few weeks ago, the outcome is certainly encouraging.

More clinical trials are needed before we can say gene therapy can be a viable treatment for people with cystic fibrosis, but it successfully establishes proof of concept that demonstrates genuine promise.

Future trials are now needed and that will almost certainly require the sort of resources and expertise that only a pharmaceutical company can provide. We also have to be realistic and accept that this will take some time.

But it is good news and one that has not come this far by accident.

First and foremost, it is a tremendous tribute to Professor Eric Alton and the wider Gene Therapy Consortium team for their ground-breaking work. Yet, as they would be the first to say, this could not have happened without the participation of people with cystic fibrosis, young and old, who have volunteered to take part in this and earlier clinical trials.

And, vitally, it has only come about because of the extraordinary support of the wider cystic fibrosis community raising many millions of pounds over the last 15 years.

This is continuing and the Trust has pledged a further £500,000 to support the GTC’s Wave 2 gene therapy product which – while about five years behind the product that is the focus of this week’s news – has potentially much greater impact.

The Trust will continue to work tirelessly to ensure everyone with cystic fibrosis gets access to life-changing therapies however long it takes. As with gene therapy and other promising scientific development, that means investing funds raised in research.  But it also means lobbying and campaigning to ensure the NHS funds therapies approved by regulators.

So we were delighted with the news on Thursday that NHS England has agreed to extend access to Kalydeco (ivacaftor) to about 40 people who have non-G551D gating mutations of cystic fibrosis.

It has taken far too long, and demonstrates the inadequate system in place to ensure such transformational drugs are appraised. What’s more, a handful of people in Wales are still waiting – and we will continue to fight for them until the right decision is made.

But the voice of people with cystic fibrosis supported by clinical teams and backed by clear evidence of Kalydeco’s transformational impact rightly won the day.

There are many more issues like this to come over the next years and a further big potential campaigning issue on the horizon is Orkambi – the so-called combination therapy eligible for those with two copies of the F508delta gene, the most common mutation of cystic fibrosis.

Orkambi has yet to be approved by EU regulators but it was good to hear this week that the US regulators, the FDA, have given the green light for its use in America.

Its effect is less dramatic than that seen with Kalydeco on those with gating mutations. But the evidence from Phase 3 trials shows that it significantly reduces hospitalisations for those who take the drug and stabilises lung function.

We are expecting a decision from European regulators by the end of this year and, if approved, the key issue will be whether it is reimbursed by the NHS. It is by no means certain that it will, and we will be pushing Vertex and the NHS in the four parts of the UK to do the right thing to enable Orkambi to get to those who need it as soon as possible at an affordable price.

This week has shown that when we come together as one we can change the world for many with cystic fibrosis. The Power of Us will continue to be our key weapon to secure further changes vital to our mission to transform the lives of all.