UL study claims Ireland isn’t doing enough for anaemia patients

11 Jan 2024

Prof Austin Stack. Image: University of Limerick

The study suggests that many anaemia patients are not screened for common, treatable causes of the condition, while roughly half of patients with severe anaemia do not undergo any screening at all.

A massive study from the University of Limerick (UL) suggests there are high rates of anaemia among patients in Ireland’s health system.

This condition – a low level of haemoglobin in the body – is a common but treatable condition that is predicted to impact nearly 2bn people worldwide. Studies suggest those with anaemia have an increased risk of death and of having more frequent hospitalisations.

Studies also claim patients who develop anaemia during hospitalisation are at a higher risk of adverse outcomes such as death or longer periods spent in hospital. Despite this, the UL study suggests screening for treatable causes of anaemia in patients is low in Ireland.

The UL study looked at more than 112,000 patients using data from the National Kidney Disease Surveillance System to assess for anaemia. The researchers followed them for up to one year to explore the use of screening tests that check for iron deficiency, B12, and folate deficiency – treatable causes of anaemia.

The study suggests that 12pc of Irish patients have the condition, with more than 10pc of men and more than 13pc of women affected.

The results found that less than 20pc of anaemic patients in the study were tested for deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folic acid, while only one third of all patients were screened for iron deficiency during follow-ups. Roughly 50pc of patients with severe anaemia did not undergo screening at all.

“This is the largest study to address the magnitude of anaemia and the extent to which it is investigated in the Irish health system,” said senior investigator Prof Austin Stack. “Our study reveals a significant burden of anaemia that was present in several high-risk groups, including patients with diabetes, chronic kidney disease and the elderly.

“The prevalence of anaemia increased exponentially in older men and women, highlighting their increased vulnerability.”

The researchers said the study highlights an important gap in care delivery programs and shows the need for quality improvement initiatives.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic