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NHS declares first-ever ‘amber alert’ over critically low blood supplies

Hospitals asked to help low NHS blood stocks by postponing some patient surgeries

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 12 October 2022 14:19 BST
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The NHS has issued an urgent call for more black blood donors to help treat patients with sickle cell disease (PA)
The NHS has issued an urgent call for more black blood donors to help treat patients with sickle cell disease (PA) (PA Archive)

The NHS has declared its first-ever amber alert over blood supplies in England, which have fallen to critically low levels.

The alert means some non-urgent operations that require blood are likely to be impacted, with hospitals advised to swap in other surgeries which do not require blood.

A letter is due to go out to hospitals in England on Wednesday, The Independent was told.

Hospitals will be asked to make individual decisions over whether to post-pone surgeries such as hip replacements but will continue to carry out urgent surgeries and blood transfusions for those with long term conditions.

The “amber-alert” will last for four weeks initially, NHS Blood and Transplant has said.

NHS Blood and Transplant said it needs donors to urgently fill empty appointments, with O blood groups in particular need.

The NHS authority has sent several alerts over the last year warning it was close to declaring an amber-alert due to low blood stocks, however, this is the first time it has actually declared the alert.

In December last year, The Independent revealed the authority, had declared a major incident as supplies risked dropping below two days.

In January it sent a “pre-action” letter to hospitals asking them to avoid holding back their own blood stocks in order to help national levels.

The news comes as pressures ahead of winter continue to mount for the NHS with at least three hospitals declaring critical incidents in the last week over demand on emergency services.

NHS Blood and Transplant said maintaining blood stocks had been an “ongoing” challenge following the pandemic due to staff shortages, sickness and due to the public being less likely to visit donation centres.

As well as asking hospitals for support to recover stock levels NHS BT has asked for more frontline staff to expand appointments.

Wendy Clark, interim chief of NHS Blood and Transplant 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.”

NHS BT is asking people to go to blood.co.uk, by calling 0300 123 23 23, or use the NHS Give Blood app to check appointment availability.

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