“We’re creating a Save Your Vein movement to improve care for dialysis patients nationwide”

Mr Jeremy Crane is a consultant transplant and vascular surgeon and Dr Christine Hall is an emergency medicine registrar at the Trust. Both are based at Hammersmith Hospital, where they treat patients with kidney disease and other conditions that require dialysis and regular blood tests. Together, they founded Save Your Vein – a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of vein preservation. With the backing of Kidney Care UK and Imperial Health Charity, the campaign is now taking off nationwide.

Why veins need saving for dialysis

At Imperial College Healthcare, we look after the biggest population of dialysis patients in the country and many of our patients – especially those with kidney disease or diabetes – also need regular blood tests or an intravenous (IV) line.

But over time, the drawing of blood or putting in an IV line can damage the all-important veins that we need for dialysis. This is crucial because dialysis involves taking blood from a patient via an IV line – usually in the arm – and diverting it to a machine to be cleaned, so the veins in a patient’s arm need to be strong and healthy.

The best way to enable dialysis is to create a kind of ‘supervein’ called a fistula by surgically connecting an artery and a vein in the arm. In order to create a successful fistula, we need to make sure the patient’s veins are preserved – that they aren’t damaged. An alternative to creating a fistula requires inserting large tubes into veins near the neck, but they must remain in place for long periods of time and can have a substantial negative impact on a patient’s quality of life. That’s one of the reasons we’re trying to make a change. Unfortunately, we have found that there is a real lack of awareness about vein preservation among both staff and patients – not just on our unit but on many units across the country.

That’s why we started the Save Your Vein campaign, which is all about getting a simple message out: don’t put needles into important veins if it can be avoided – take blood from the back of the hand instead.

Raising awareness among patients and staff

When we had the idea for Save Your Vein we knew there was a problem but we didn’t know how significant. So, we went to the dialysis unit at Hammersmith Hospital to survey patients and staff and find out about their knowledge.

We then ran a roadshow and produced posters and patient alert cards. Afterwards, when we asked the same questions again, we noticed a massive increase in awareness and understanding.

With the fantastic support of Kidney Care UK and Imperial Health Charity, the campaign is now gathering real momentum and we have created a range of promotional materials, including wristbands and lanyards, along with an impressive new website that is helping to spread the word.

Creating a national movement

Creating awareness is so important – once patients start talking about vein preservation, it’s easier to have an early conversation about having a fistula, about dialysis, about transplantation and about forms of renal replacement therapy.

We hope that patients who preserve their veins will go on to have a successful fistula, enabling them to live longer and cope better with the demands of dialysis.

This is especially important for us at Imperial, where we have a large number of patients requiring dialysis but relatively few having fistulas currently. Other dialysis units across the country are experiencing similar problems, which is why it is so important for our campaign to break through nationwide.

How patients and healthcare professionals can save veins

What can you do to support the Save Your Vein campaign? If you are a patient who is having lots of regular blood tests or an IV line in your arm, ask your phlebotomist or nurse to take blood from the back of your hand instead. If this is not possible, ask them to alternate where they are taking blood so that your veins have time to heal.

If you are caring for patients on dialysis, look to take blood from the back of their hand, take extra care to look after their veins, do not duplicate blood tests unnecessarily and only put in an IV line when absolutely necessary.

You can also increase awareness by wearing Save Your Vein wristbands and lanyards – you can order them from the campaign website.

To find out more about the Save Your Vein campaign, visit www.saveyourvein.org

Imperial Health Charity helps our hospitals do more through grants, arts, volunteering and fundraising. The charity awarded a £5,000 grant to pay for the development of the Save Your Vein website. To find out more about applying for grants, visit www.imperialcharity.org.uk/grants

Please share this post on social to help spread the word about the #SaveYourVein campaign. Find Mr Crane @JeremyCraneMD and Dr Hall @YourDoctorSays on Twitter.