Blood supplies could soon become ‘critical,’ NHS warns

Exclusive: NHS calls for blood donations over risk supplies could drop to ‘critical’ levels over winter

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Sunday 12 December 2021 21:12 GMT
<p>Donors gives blood plasma to the NHS Blood and Transplant Convalescent Plasma Programme at the Twickenham plasma pop-up centre in west London</p>

Donors gives blood plasma to the NHS Blood and Transplant Convalescent Plasma Programme at the Twickenham plasma pop-up centre in west London

NHS stocks of blood may become “critical” this winter, a regulator has warned, as Covid and higher than average winter rates of cold and flu risk donation levels.

The NHS Blood and Transplant authority declared a major incident at the end of October after its supply of blood supplies dropped to critical levels, nationally.

The regulator’s supply was at risk of dropping to below two days’ supply across the country, when it aims to have at least five days at all times.

This is the second time the regulator, which is responsible for blood donation supplies to the NHS, has declared a critical incident in the last 12 months.

The last time the regulator declared an incident over low stocks was due to bad weather and snow in 2018 during the “beast from the east” storm and in Cornwall in 2019, which resulted in decreased donation levels.

Prior to the 27 October alert, the regular also declared a major incident during the summer. It came during a period of extremely high demand for the NHS, with the second highest level of 999 calls and record levels of ambulance response delays.

The regulator has since returned to usual levels and currently has a six-day supply for most blood groups, apart from B negative, which is at five days and O negative, which is at 4.8.

The news comes as hospitals are again under increasing pressure, with an average of 2 million patients attending A&E each month between September to November, compared to 1.5 million last year during the same period, and as NHS chief Amanda Pritchard warned that the healthcare system could face its toughest winter ever.

In a comment to The Independent, NHS Blood and Transplant said: “Winter is always a challenging period for blood stocks, but seasonal pressures are happening earlier and we are concerned that the colder weather and higher rates of cold and flu alongside Covid-19, including the booster vaccine programme, could make the situation more critical this year.

“This is why we need our amazing existing and returning donors, particularly those who attend our donor centres, to act now to help build stocks ahead of winter to ensure patients continue to get the lifesaving blood they need.”

It said appointments to give blood can now be booked through the NHS Give Blood app.

“If you are fit and healthy and already donate, please make and keep an appointment for the coming weeks – every appointment counts.”

In board papers on 2 December, the regulator said that without any mitigations, such as an increase in bookable donation slots or donors coming forward, there could be “insufficient” stocks during during January to March next year, with that winter period already the busiest months for the NHS. NHS Blood and Transplant is reviewing its plans for the new year.

According to the regulator’s guidelines, red blood cell supply shortages are rare in the UK but there have been seasonal shortages for specific blood groups such as O and D negative.

The guidance added: “The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 has also prompted concerns around red cell shortages that may be prolonged.”

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