First ever amber alert issued as NHS blood stocks fall critically low

Written by on 12 October 2022

First-ever amber alert issued as NHS blood stocks fall critically low

Hospitals are being told to implement plans to protect their stocks

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has declared its first-ever amber alert as blood supplies dropped to a critically low level.

Hospitals have been told to implement plans to protect their stocks, meaning non-urgent operations requiring blood could be postponed to ensure they are prioritised for patients who need them most.

A spokeswoman for NHSBT said current overall blood stocks in the NHS stand at 3.1 days but levels of O type blood have fallen to below two days.

O negative blood is the universal blood type which can be given to everyone.

It is vitally important during emergencies and when the blood type of the recipient is unknown.

Existing O negative and O positive donors are now being asked to book in at blood donor centres to give blood.

People from other blood groups are also being asked to keep their appointments.

Seven blood donor centres have more than 50 available appointments for the rest of this week. They are Bradford, Bristol, Liverpool, Tooting and Westfield in London, Luton and Southampton.

As news of the amber alert broke, the blood donor website became very busy, with people placed in a queue. Phone lines run by NHSBT also saw a spike in calls.

The current amber alert is partly due to ongoing staffing issues, with more staff needed to work at donor sessions.

NHSBT said maintaining blood stocks has been an ongoing challenge in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, mainly because of staff shortages and sickness but also due to the fact people are less likely to visit collection centres in towns and cities.

Action currently being taken to tackle the issue includes moving more staff to the front line to open up more appointments, speeding up recruitment to fill vacant posts and using agency staff, as well as retaining existing workers.

Blood can only be stored for 35 days, which means there is a constant need for donations – and a need for specific blood types.

Around one in seven people have O negative blood.

Air ambulances and emergency response vehicles carry O negative supplies for emergencies.

The amber alert will last initially for four weeks, which NHSBT said should enable blood stocks to be rebuilt.

It aims to hold more than six days of blood in stock, however, overall levels are currently predicted to fall below two days – hence the alert.

Although blood stocks are very low for blood group O, the other blood groups are expected to enter amber levels in the next few weeks.

Declaring amber for all blood groups makes it easier for hospitals to manage stocks.

Wendy Clark, interim chief executive of NHSBT, said: “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.

“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.

“We cannot do this without our amazing donors. If you are O positive or O negative in particular, please make an appointment to give blood as soon as you can. If you already have an appointment, please keep it.”

Hospitals will continue to carry out any urgent, emergency or trauma surgery, cancer surgery and transplant surgery.

Professor Cheng-Hock Toh, chairman of the National Blood Transfusion Committee, 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.”

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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