Blood stocks in London and the South-east have sunk so low that even supplies of the most common blood group, O-positive, are being limited to identified patients only. Hospitals are being asked not to keep their normal reserves. But there are serious shortages across the whole country. Both A and O blood groups have been restricted by up to 20 per cent in recent weeks.
The latest blood crisis comes a month after a damning report on the National Blood Authority. Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, sacked its chairman, Sir Colin Walker, when he refused to resign over the criticisms.
Yesterday, Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris said that John Adey, the NBA's chief executive, should go too. Mr Adey was in charge of implementing reforms demanded by the last government. A majority of locally managed blood testing and processing centres were downgraded and a structure of three centrally managed "zones" put in their place.
Dr Harris said the old system should be restored. "There is an urgent need for the Government to take action. They should restore the autonomy of local centres and the confidence of donors."
Figures obtained by The Independent show total blood stocks this week were significantly below figures considered acceptable minimums. On Thursday, for example, there were 2,504 units of O-positive compared with a desirable limit of 3,500. The situation was particularly acute in London and the South-east where there were just 639 units of O-positive.
In a letter to haematologists and blood bank staff, Stuart Penny, head of hospital services, said: "Stocks of group O blood have fallen to a level where we now have to restrict orders to those for identified patients only, ie please order only what you need for planned transfusions and emergency stock rather than maintaining your usual routine stock of group O."
Jane Ellison, the Unison health union secretary for the north-west NBA, said: "Frank Dobson says he is monitoring the situation, but we want to know who is doing the monitoring. Is the NBA policing itself?"