NHS blood supplies bounce back

NHS blood supplies bounce back: Levels of universal type have doubled since first ever amber alert was issued

  • Official data today showed there are now four days supply of O negative blood
  • An amber warning last week saw hospitals told to protect their limited supply
  • Critics hit out at the extra delays being piled on patients when supplies are rising

NHS blood supplies are already bouncing back just days after officials began postponing ops to come with shortage.

Health chiefs last week issued their first ever ‘amber alert’, with just two days’ of supply of O negative blood — the universal type which hospitals are reliant on in emergencies.

Levels have since doubled, however. There is now four days’ worth of supplies, according to the NHS Blood and Transplant service.

Patients’ rights groups today questioned whether it was time for NHS bosses to drop the emergency rationing plans.

But health officials insist levels are still below the ideal amount and that upticks are just a ‘short-term improvement’. They aim to have at least six days’ worth.

Data today showed there are now four days worth of O negative — compared to two days last week. The health service aims to have more than six days of stocks 

Trusts have been told to implement emergency plans to protect their dwindling stocks under the first ever ‘amber’ alert status

Since July 1, NHS Blood and Transplant has recruited more than 250 staff in key frontline roles.

But turnover continues to be a challenge, with a quarter of staff who joining leaving every year.

NHSBT aims to have around 1,296 staff in its blood donation teams, with 837 donor carers.

Currently, only 778 donor carers are working.

The shortages have led to appointment cancellations because there are not enough staff to take the blood.

This has been exacerbated by Covid and other illnesses causing last minute absences. 

What roles are there? 

The greatest challenge is in donor carers.

The role looks after people giving blood and administers the needle.

Donor carers are paid in NHS band three and forum with salaries ranging from £22,000 to £26,000. 

They are supervised by session nurses who are in NHS band six, earning between £34,000 and £41,000. 

Do I need a medical background to be a donor carer? 


Donor carers used to need to take a 12-week training course.

But this has been rapidly fast tracked to around eight weeks to tackle the current stock challenge.

However, volunteers with no training are not currently being asked for. 

NHS Blood and Transplant triggered the amber alert on October 12. It will remain in place until at least November 9.

While the alert is in place, hospitals have been told to ‘protect blood stocks’.

This includes postponing ‘non-urgent’ hip replacements for the four-week period and swapping the slots with hernia repairs, gall-bladder removal and eye surgery which don’t require blood on standby. 

The health service said it will continue to carry out urgent, emergency, cancer and transplant surgery and treat those with long-term conditions, stating that it does not take the step ‘lightly’. 

Officials insist the crisis is solely down to staffing shortages and rising Covid rates, as opposed to a lack of donors. 

Most donor sessions are full, with some appointments having to be cancelled at the last minute because there aren’t enough workers to take samples. 

In a desperate attempt to fix the issue, NHS staff in other roles are being moved to the frontline to fill in on a temporary basis. 

But blood supply stock data shows there are now four days worth of the universal blood O negative blood — twice as much as last week.

And stocks of A positive have jumped from 2.8 to 4 days, B negative has risen from 3.3 to 4.3 days, while AB negative has increased from 3.8 to 5.3 days.

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-sixties told MailOnline that it seems ‘rather strange’ that elective operations are being postponed when the blood supply situation is ‘getting better’.  

He said: ‘It’s always cancelling elective operations that seem to be the default position when NHS in trouble. 

‘It goes by the wayside, almost as if they are discretionary, just because they are not life or death. 

‘With the waiting list now at 7million, it’s extremely worrying that this will get even worse.’

Latest NHS data shows one in eight people in England are now in the queue for elective procedures, with 390,000 of those been waiting for at least one year.

Mr Reed said that some of those waiting can’t walk properly or are in constant pain and were looking forward to getting some respite.

‘So it’s a real blow when you get the letter or phone call that it’s off and can have serious complications,’ he said.

However, NHS Blood and Transplant said blood supplies are not sufficient enough to press ahead with all elective operations.

A spokesperson said: ‘Stocks have improved because hospitals have reduced demand and appointments to donate are close to 100 per cent capacity thanks to the amazing response from donors. 

‘The latest figures are encouraging but we need to improve long term staffing capacity.

‘We need to be able to cope with hospitals going back to normal ordering when we come out of amber. 

‘We are aiming to build up to a strong and sustainable level of stocks over the next four weeks.’

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told MailOnline that hospitals are doing ‘everything possible to ensure life-saving surgeries, including cancer surgeries, can go ahead’.

He said: ‘There have been many advances in surgery over recent decades which mean patients are much less likely to lose a lot of blood during surgery.

‘There are also new technologies and medicines to reduce blood loss for higher risk patients.

‘As with any emergency situation, patients will be prioritised according to clinical need. 

Professor Mortensen added: ‘It is inevitable that some less urgent surgeries will be postponed but hospitals will reschedule these as soon as possible. 

‘Hospitals may also re-prioritise surgery that does not need a blood transfusion so that resources can still be used, and the impact on the backlog is reduced.

‘I would urge anyone that is able to give blood to make an appointment at a donation centre as soon as possible to help us move out of this temporary situation more quickly.’

What IS an amber alert? Will my operation be cancelled? Why ARE supplies low? And how do I even donate blood? Everything you need to know about the NHS’s blood supply crisis

Hospital trusts in England went into crisis mode last week after the NHS issued its first ever amber alert for blood supply.

Dwindling blood stocks have lead the health service to ration supply, postponing elective surgeries like hip replacements.

Supply of the universal blood type O are particularly low, making it difficult in emergency procedures and when the blood type of the recipient is unknown.

The alert will continue for at least the next four weeks and will not be lifted until stocks return to manageable levels.

If they continue to fall, a red alert may be issued, which would see only the most serious emergency operations going ahead. 

Here, MailOnline explains everything you need to know about the situation.

What is an amber alert?

The NHS has an official traffic-light system for handling low levels of blood. 

Currently England is at ‘amber’, which means hospitals must ‘reduce and prioritise’ blood use.

It could see elective surgeries, such as hip replacements, cancelled. 

But urgent or emergency, cancer and transplant surgeries will all continue to run as normal for now. 

Before today, the NHS was at the pre-amber stage. NHS staff were advised to be cautious of wasting stock and to try to hold back blood types that most likely run low.

The next stage, red, would force hospitals to ration blood supplies for emergencies only.

How much blood does the NHS have? 

NHS Blood and Transplant aims to have at least six days worth of stock.

Levels of O negative blood stand at 4 days.

Stocks of O positive (4.28), A positive (4.01), B negative (4.31) and AB negative (5.34) are all also below the threshold.

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

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

B positive, an important blood type for treating people with sickle cell disease, has 6.76 days worth of stocks, while A negative (9.25) and AB positive (10.78) are also both above the target.

What does this mean for hospitals?

An email circulated to hospital bosses has told them to postpone elective surgery which is likely to require donor blood.

The emergency measure could see thousands of routine operations cancelled. 

This could include joint replacements, which require adequate stocks of blood on hand in case a patient bleeds heavily.

Decisions will be taken by individual hospitals. 

But hospitals might instead book in other surgeries, such as hernia repairs, gall-bladder removal and eye surgery, which do not require blood to be on standby.

Already about 6.5million patients are on waiting lists for such operations, with around 300,000 waiting at least a year.  

Why are supplies low?

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

NHSBT claimed maintaining stocks has been a challenge in the wake of Covid, partly due to fewer people visiting collection centres in towns and cities. 

But some donors also had their appointments cancelled more recently because of the lack of staff. 

NHSBT say bookings have been dropped at the last minute because of Covid and other sickness absences.

An NHSBT spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Unfortunately we have needed to cancel some appointments — sometimes at the last minute — because of staff sickness absence.

‘Ongoing staff shortage issues have been caused by accelerated turnover and the time it takes to recruit and train new colleagues. 

‘This has left NHS Blood and Transplant vulnerable to short term sickness, which remains high due to increases in Covid cases. 

‘This has led to unavoidable cancellations of high numbers of donor appointments, impacting collections and stock levels.’ 

Is there a potential solution?

Experts say one vital tool that could help procedures go ahead is being neglected in NHS hospitals. 

A drug called tranexamic acid reduces major blood loss by a quarter when given before an operation. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends it is given to all patients undergoing major operations.

But an audit of 152 NHS hospitals revealed just two thirds of eligible patients were offered the £2-per-dose drug last year. 

A report published in British Journal of Anaesthesia last month claimed giving the jab to all hospital surgery patients could prevent 15,000 major bleeds per year.

Lead author Professor Ian Roberts, one of the UK’s leading experts on blood loss at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said this could reduce the current and future strains on blood stocks.

He told the Mail On Sunday: ‘It makes perfect sense for doctors and patients. It is a cheap, low-risk intervention that will save tens of thousands of blood units, and lives.’

Currently, about 13,000 Britons die every year as a result of a major bleeding during surgery. 

He added: ‘Not only do more doctors need to offer tranexamic acid, but we want every patient having an operation to know they can, and should, ask for it.’

How can I donate blood?

If you would like to donate blood, you can register online at www.blood.co.uk or call 0300 123 23 23.

When you log into your account, you are able to find an appointment. 

As news of the amber alert broke, the blood donor website became very busy, with people placed in a queue. 

NHS Blood and Transplant said: ‘You can book an appointment to give blood as soon as you register as a blood donor. 

‘However, the next convenient appointment might not be straightaway. This could be because we already have a good supply of your blood type.

‘People need blood all year round so your donation will still save lives, even if your appointment is in a few months’ time.’

There are 25 main permanent sites where you can donate. They are in:

  • Birmingham
  • Bradford
  • Bristol
  • Cambridge
  • Gloucester
  • Lancaster
  • Leeds City Centre
  • Leicester
  • Liverpool
  • London Edgware
  • London Tooting
  • London West End
  • London Westfield Shepherd’s Bush
  • London Westfield Stratford City
  • Luton
  • Manchester, Plymouth Grove
  • Manchester, Norfolk House
  • Newcastle
  • Nottingham
  • Oxford
  • Plymouth
  • Poole
  • Sheffield
  • Southampton
  • Stoke

In addition to these 25 main centres, there are also thousands of temporary community-based venues where you can give blood. 

What happens when I donate? 

When you are comfortable in the chair, a nurse will put a cuff on your arm to maintain a small amount of pressure during donation (this does not measure blood pressure).

They then examine your arm to find a suitable vein and clean it with an antiseptic sponge.

A needle will be inserted into your arm which will collect your blood into a blood bag with your unique donor number.

You should not feel any discomfort or pain. If you do, tell a member of staff.

A scale weighs the blood and stops when you have donated 470ml (or just under a pint). This usually takes between 5-10 minutes.

The needle will be removed and a sterile dressing applied to your arm.

Your donation is transported to one of our blood centres where it is tested and processed before being issued to hospitals.

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