NHS blood supplies are running low again in England, MailOnline can reveal.
Hospitals have been told to prepare for another possible “amber alert”, which could lead to the cancellation of even more routine operations.
Emergency measures would save blood for patients who need it most, such as victims of car accidents and stabbings.
The health service has asked donors, especially those who are O negative, to book an appointment to donate blood in the coming days and weeks to bring blood supplies back to pre-Christmas levels.
Stocks of type O negative blood have nearly dropped to the critical two-day supply level. The NHS aims to hold six days of stock for all blood types.
Stocks of type O negative blood have nearly fallen to the critical two-day supply level in England. The NHS aims to hold six days of stock for all blood types.
The NHS currently has enough blood for six and a half days. Total supply reached two days’ worth in the fall before an amber alert was declared
What does the NHS blood and transplantation amber alert mean?
What is an amber alert?
The NHS has an official traffic light system to manage low blood levels.
England is currently in the pre-amber stage. NHS staff have been advised to be careful about wasting stock and try to contain blood types that are likely to be running low.
The next stage, ‘amber’, which means that hospitals must ‘reduce and prioritize’ the use of blood.
And the final stage, red, would force hospitals to ration blood supplies for emergencies only.
How much blood does the NHS have?
Currently, two blood types, O negative, the universal blood type, and B negative, are below the target six-day supply.
O negative blood is the universal blood type that can be given to everyone.
It is vitally important during emergencies and when the recipient’s blood type is unknown.
What would an amber alert mean for hospitals?
A warning email that circulated online the last time an amber alert was issued indicated hospitals had been told to postpone elective surgery likely to require donor blood.
The emergency measure could lead to the cancellation of thousands of routine operations.
This could include joint replacements, which require adequate supplies of blood on hand in case a patient bleeds heavily.
Why are supplies low?
The above amber alert is also believed to be due to ongoing staffing issues as more staff are needed to work donor sessions.
And some experts say it’s made worse by doctors failing to use a vital drug that cuts major blood loss by a quarter when given before an operation.
Stocks are down due to freezing weather, bank holidays over the festive period and increased illness, resulting in fewer donors showing up and more last-minute cancellations.
The NHS has also been hit by a shortage of oxygen cylinders, following a spike in demand as large numbers of patients are being treated in ambulances and corridors due to a lack of beds.
In the rooms, oxygen is delivered through a series of pipes. But all other patients who require oxygen rely on canisters, the most common of which supplies enough for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, chemists are running out of cold and flu medicines amid the ‘twin demic’.
NHS officials were forced to declare their first amber alert in the autumn after general blood supplies fell below the crucial two-day mark.
This included stocks of O negative, the universal blood group that can be given to everyone in an emergency.
The NHS aims to hold six days of stock for all blood types.
Trusts already juggling record waiting lists were forced to cancel operations, such as hip and knee operations that require blood on hold but are deemed “non-urgent”. The move was to ensure there were enough supplies for urgent procedures, such as car accident victims.
The chaos lasted for a month, giving the health service time to rebuild blood supplies.
But now two blood types, O and B negative, are below the target six-day supply.
England is at pre-amber alert level, which means the NHS is trying to ramp up supplies and is advising hospitals to prepare for an amber alert.
A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) told MailOnline: ‘Blood stocks are under pressure, as is usual at this time of year.
But at least this week there will be no amber alert.
NHSBT has told hospitals to prepare for “additional measures” should they be necessary to limit the supply of O-negative blood in England.
It is also in talks with hospitals and trying to reduce the demand for O-negative blood to normal levels.
A letter sent to NHS chiefs this week told them to make sure they were ready to enact emergency measures at short notice.
The letter, seen by MailOnline, suggested that the protocols could be implemented soon.
It read: ‘It is important to note that NHSBT can currently supply orders and is not asking you to implement your Emergency Blood Management Arrangements (EBMA) at this stage.
“However, it’s important that you make sure your EBMAs are in place and that your EBM pool can be convened quickly if needed.”
It was signed by Dr Farrukh Shah, Chief Medical Officer of the NHSBT, and Professor Cheng Hock Toh, Chairman of the National Committee on Blood Transfusion.
Any similar action to upgrade to an amber alert would wreak even more havoc on an already crippled NHS.
Trusts have been told to implement contingency plans to protect their dwindling stocks under first ‘amber’ alert status
Hospitals across the country are already giving in to winter demand, high flu rates, staff shortages and bed blockages.
The resurgence of Covid and the appearance of the XBB.1.5 ‘Kraken’ variant could cause even more chaos, experts fear.
During the October amber alert, staff shortages were also a factor in reducing blood supplies, with some appointments canceled at the last minute due to a lack of donor caregivers.
The service still has 20 openings for this position, but expects to close the gap by mid-January.
The health service is pleading with Brits to come forward: calling, emailing, WhatsApping and texting existing donors.
NHSBT has urged the public, especially O-negative and B-negative donors, to make an appointment to donate blood in the coming days and weeks so that it can replenish supplies and meet hospital demand.
He urged those who have an appointment to “keep it if you are well and fit.”
O-negative and B-negative donors who do not have a reserve can call the NHS blood team on 0300 303 2096 to find a priority slot.
David Rose, director of donor experience at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: ‘Make a new year’s resolution to donate blood and save lives.
We are seeing higher than usual cancellations by donors due to seasonal illnesses and holiday disruption coupled with an increase in demand for O negative blood from hospitals and this is putting pressure on stocks.
‘In particular, we need O and B negative donors in the coming days and weeks to urgently increase supplies.
‘If you’re one of those donors and you don’t have a reservation, give us a call and we’ll find you a space.
“We may have to move donor appointments with other blood types to accommodate this, which will be frustrating for them, but it is a necessary step to ensure we can continue to supply hospitals with the correct type of blood.”
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