Blood supplies in England are so low that the NHS has issued its first ever amber warning meaning some surgeries may be postponed due to the shortages.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has called for donors to come forward to replenish the critically low levels but it is staff shortages at donor sessions – particularly among donor carers who look after the people giving blood – that is being blamed for supplies falling so low. NHSBT aims to have six days worth of stock but currently has just three days while supplies of O-type blood are even lower at two days.
Hospitals have been advised that non-urgent patient operations requiring blood should be swapped for the type of surgeries that don’t. Emergency operations and transfusions for long term conditions will continue but surgeries such as hip-replacements will be delayed.
“Asking hospitals to limit their use of blood is not a step we take lightly. This is a vital measure to protect patients who need blood the most,” said Wendy Clark, the interim head of NHSBT.
“Patients are our focus. I sincerely apologise to those patients who may see their surgery postponed because of this. With the support of hospitals and the measures we are taking to scale up collection capacity, we hope to be able to build stocks back to a more sustainable footing.”
The Guardian reports that health bosses are “scrambling to shift more NHS workers to the frontline to facilitate more [donor] appointments, as well as accelerating efforts to fill vacant posts.”
Maintaining supplies has been an “ongoing” challenge, NHSBT said, due to staff shortages, sickness and fewer visits to donation centres by the public following the pandemic. It has asked for more staff so that it can offer more time slots for donations. Donors are asked to fill in missed or vacant appointment slots by calling 0300 123 23 23 or going to blood.co.uk.
Donations of all types are constantly needed because blood can only be stored for 35 days. O negative is the universal type that can be given to all patients and is carried by air ambulances and other emergency responders.
The Telegraph reports that increased demand for blood supplies has come for health trusts “attempting to clear the backlog of elective surgery”. Millions of patients are on waiting lists and now they face even longer delays because of the blood shortage.
NHSBT said the amber alert over blood supplies will last for an initial four weeks which it believes will be enough time to replenish stocks. It launched its critical incident plan in July to try and avoid having to postpone non-urgent surgery.
Commenting on today’s (October 12) amber warning, the chair of the National Blood Transfusion Committee, Professor Cheng-Hock Toh said: “I know that all hospital transfusion services, up and down the country, are working flat out to ensure that blood will be available for emergencies and urgent surgeries.
“We will continue to work closely and collaboratively with NHSBT and with surgeons and anaesthetists, in particular, to minimise any inconvenience and problems to patients.”