Shortages of blood may delay operations

OPERATIONS may be cancelled, depending on patients' blood types, because of a crisis in stocks of the most common Group O, it emerged yesterday.

The blood service in London and the South-east has appealed to hospitals to review waiting-lists for Group-O patients. Non-emergency surgery where the patient may require a transfusion may have to be postponed after stocks sank to half a day's supply. Marcela Contreras, the region's executive director, has told consultant haematologists and laboratory staff that the move was necessary to ensure an adequate supply of Group O, regarded as a near-universal type for emergency use.

"We are acutely aware that, following several weeks of restricting your supplies, many of you are operating with critically low stocks of Group- O blood and are facing the prospect of taking uncomfortable clinical decisions." Radio appeals for donors have resulted in improvements in stocks but it will be some time before they have recovered to more normal levels. Shortages across the country meant other regions were unable to help.

Details of the "rescheduling" of surgery were revealed yesterday at the first public meeting of the National Blood Authority (NBA), which has, like other quangos, previously met in private. Figures at the meeting show the authority was pounds 109,000 in deficit for the year to March, but that the budget for this year is under serious pressure because of factors including the CJD crisis.

Mike Fogden, the chairman appointed to replace Sir Colin Walker, sacked by the Government in March, has told staff the cost to the service of CJD is likely to be pounds 87m.

One example given yesterday of the problems was that some hospitals were already switching from the service's FFP (fresh frozen plasma) to a commercial alternative, Octaplas.

If that continued, it could cost the NBA of pounds 8.5m in lost revenue.

Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who has campaigned on the blood service, said he was worried about spiralling costs and cancelled surgery, which comes as the Government is due to make an announcement on waiting-lists today. "The news that Group-O patients will be discriminated against in terms of getting their operations represents a further distortion of clinical priorities. The Government is failing to get a grip on the crisis engulfing the nation's blood supply."

Dr Harris said he was particularly appalled that at no stage during yesterday's meeting was there any discussion on the recent, damning report on the NBA. It was set up by the Conservatives five years ago to improve efficiency and cut costs in the service.

But the cost of the service has risen from pounds 140m in 1994 to more than pounds 207m last year.