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NHS blood supplies drop critically low, sparking a first-ever amber alert

Blood supplies have become critically low, prompting the NHS department in charge of donations to issue the first-ever amber alert.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) reported that overall blood stocks in the health service were 3.1 days, but O-type blood levels had dropped to less than two days.

It intends to keep more than six days’ worth of blood on hand.

Hospitals have been instructed to safeguard their supplies, which means that non-urgent operations requiring blood may be postponed in order to prioritize them for patients who require them the most.

Existing O-negative and O-positive donors have been asked to schedule blood donation appointments.

The Give Blood website appeared to be inundated with people wanting to book appointments in the hours following the amber alert.

People who arrived at the homepage were told they were in a “queue” before they could select a date and location for their donation.

O-negative blood is the most common blood type and can be given to anyone. It is critical in emergencies and when the recipient’s blood type is unknown.

Because blood can only be stored for 35 days, there is always a need for donations – and a need for specific blood types.

The amber alert will initially be in effect for four weeks, allowing NHSBT to rebuild blood stocks.

One in every seven people has O-negative blood.

Air ambulances and emergency response vehicles are equipped with O-negative emergency supplies.

Staffing issues are also believed to have contributed to the amber status, with more workers required at donor sessions.

According to NHSBT, maintaining blood stocks has been difficult since the pandemic, owing to staff shortages and sickness, but also because people are less likely to visit collection centers in towns and cities.

The department will attempt to address the issue by relocating employees to the front lines to fill open positions, speeding up recruitment to fill vacant positions, and employing agency workers.

Wendy Clark, interim chief executive of NHSBT, 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 apologize 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.”

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