Sickle Cell Disease needs to be taken seriously

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2023 National Disabled Members' Conference
7 July 2023

Conference believes that Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is an impairment that must be taken seriously. SCD affects millions of individuals globally and significantly impacts their quality of life.

SCD is an inherited blood disorder that affects the production of red blood cells, causing them to be abnormally crescent-shaped and prone to blockages in blood vessels.

People with SCD experience chronic pain, organ damage, anaemia, and increased susceptibility to infections. SCD also significantly affects physical, mental, and emotional well-being, leading to limitations in daily activities, education, employment, and overall quality of life. This blood disorder is predominantly associated with people from Black African and Caribbean backgrounds.

Sickle cell anaemia requires ongoing treatment, medicines, and hospital stays. It can be so severe it prevents those with it from working. This can lead to financial struggles. Parents of sickle cell children are at risk of job insecurity and may miss out on promotion due to the amount of time needed for appointments or hospital admissions.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 defines a disabled person as someone with a physical or mental impairment which has or is likely to last 12 months or more and which has a substantial impact on their normal day to day activities.

Conference notes that SCD is likely to fit the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010. People with SCD experience frequent and severe pain crises, leading to significant barriers to carrying out daily activities and limiting their physical functioning. Chronic pain management becomes a lifelong struggle, necessitating appropriate support and accommodations to ensure a quality life.

Conference notes the impact SCD has on employment, often resulting in missed work days due to health complications, causing disruptions in professional pursuits.

Conference also notes that there can be a lot of emotional and psychosocial challenges, such as depression and anxiety, due to the impact of the disease on physical health and overall well-being. Public recognition and support systems are essential in addressing the psychosocial needs and ensuring appropriate mental health care for individuals with SCD.

Conference notes that UNISON’s guide ‘Proving Disability and Reasonable Adjustments’ outlines the rights disabled people such as those with SCD are entitled to in the workplace. The guide also includes a section devoted to SCD and the kind of reasonable adjustments that might be applicable in the workplace.

It is crucial employers take SCD seriously to ensure appropriate support, equal opportunities, and protection against discrimination to those affected by this condition.

Conference therefore instructs the National Disabled Members Committee to work with National Black Members Committee to:

1)Raise awareness of the impact of SCD on Black workers and of the rights these workers are entitled to as disabled people under the Equality Act 2010

2)Publicise UNISON’s ‘Proving Disability and Reasonable Adjustments’ guide to branches and regions, and in particular the advice on reasonable adjustments for people with SCD

3)Support appropriate campaigns for investment and support for people with SCD.