Parliamentary Questions | diagnosis of pernicious anaemia | 24 July 2015

Crossbench peer The Countess of Mar tabled two questions about the diagnosis of pernicious anaemia – which were answered by junior health minister Lord Prior of Brampton in the House of Lords on 24 July 2015. We publicise them here because ME/CFS is occasionally mentioned on discussion forums as a misdiagnosis for pernicious anaemia.

The Countess asked:

What action [is the Government] taking to address the problems associated with the late diagnosis of pernicious anaemia, in the light of the results of the survey published in the British Nursing Journal in April 2014?

and

How [does the Government] propose to alert medical practitioners to the severe and irreversible nerve damage that can occur when pernicious anaemia is misdiagnosed?

Lord Prior replied:

It is important that patients suffering from pernicious anaemia, the result of a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency, receive a prompt and appropriate diagnosis. Pernicious anaemia develops gradually, and can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, lethargy, feeling faint and headaches, which vary from patient to patient. Because of the gradual progression of the condition, the variety of symptoms, which are shared with a range of other conditions, diagnosis at early onset can be challenging.
 
To support the diagnosis of pernicious anaemia, the British Committee for Standards in Haematology (BCSH) has published Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of Cobalamin and Folate disorders, which sets out that cobalamin status is the recommended first line diagnostic test. However, the guidance states that there is no gold standard test for the condition and makes it clear that the clinical picture of a patient is the most important factor in assessing the significance of the test results. This means clinicians should take into account all of the symptoms the patent is experiencing, their medical history, age and other relevant factors when considering the implications of a patient’s cobalamin status. The BCSH guidance highlights the risk of neurological impairment if treatment is delayed.
 
The BCSH operates independently of Department and NHS England and produces evidence based guidelines for both clinical and laboratory haematologists on the diagnosis and treatment of haematological disease, drawing on the advice of expert consultants and clinical scientists practicing in the United Kingdom. It would be for the BCSH, not the Department, to consider whether any adjustments to current best practice in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with pernicious anaemia were needed, including whether any new or additional tests were appropriate. A copy of the BCSH guidance document has already been placed in the Library and is attached.
 
More general clinical guidance on the diagnosis and management of pernicious anaemia can also be found on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Clinical Knowledge Summaries website. This is a freely accessible online resource that covers the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of pernicious anaemia, as well as potential complications of the condition. In addition to this, NHS Choices provides similar, though less technical, information on pernicious anaemia for the public.
 
BCSH Guidelines pernicious anaemia (PDF Document, 318.95 KB)

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