Hospitals in England were told today to stop canceling routine operations because blood supplies are no longer dangerously low.
The trusts introduced emergency rationing plans last month after health officials issued the first “amber alert” because stocks had fallen below two days’ worth across the country.
As a result, hospitals were forced to protect increasingly scarce stocks. Hip replacements and similar operations have been postponed.
NHS Blood and Transplant confirmed today that supplies have now recovered to pre-shortage levels. A six day supply is currently in stock for almost all blood types.
NHS bosses said the amber alert was a “vital measure” to save blood for patients who needed it most, such as car crash and stabbing victims. Hospitals have been told to “restock slowly.”
However, officials warned there could be more chaos this winter because “it’s always a tough time” as supplies drop due to disease and bad weather.
NHS Blood and Transplant imposed an “amber alert” last month after national blood stocks fell below two days’ worth. As a result, hospitals were forced to restrict the amount of blood they used. But the health service confirmed today that supplies have now recovered to their six-day supply target.
The NHS blood supply ‘amber alert’ was in effect from October 12 to November 8. Trusts were told to put in place contingency plans to protect their dwindling stocks.
NHS bosses said the amber alert was a “vital measure” to save blood for those who needed it most while stocks were low, but hospitals can now “slowly restock”. In the photo: a man donating blood at a session in Croydon, south London.
What is the problem with the NHS blood and transplant staff and can I help?
Since July 1, NHS Blood and Transplant has hired more than 250 staff in key frontline roles.
But turnover remains a challenge, with a quarter of staff joining and leaving each year.
The shortage has 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 biggest challenge is in the donor caregivers.
The role deals with people who donate blood and administers the needle.
Donor carers are paid in band three and NHS forum with salaries ranging from £22,000 to £26,000.
They are supervised by session nurses who are in NHS band six and earn between £34,000 and £41,000.
Do I need a medical history to be a donor caregiver?
Donor caregivers used to need to take a 12-week training course.
But this has been fast-tracked to around eight weeks to address the current equity challenge.
However, untrained volunteers are currently not requested.
NHS Blood and Transplant activated the amber alert on October 12, as there were only two days of O+ and O- blood, the latter being the universal blood type that hospitals rely on in emergencies.
He was meant to stay in place until at least November 9, meaning he got up a day earlier than expected.
While the alert was active, hospitals were told to “protect blood stocks.”
This included postponing “non-urgent” hip replacements, which require blood on hold, for those that don’t, such as hernia repairs, gallbladder removal and eye surgery.
However, the health service continued to perform urgent, emergency, cancer, and transplant surgeries and treated those with long-term conditions.
The health service said today the amber alert could be lifted due to “incredible reaction from donors, good collaboration with hospitals and the addition of more staff to the front lines.”
Officials insisted that the crisis was due solely to a shortage of staff, as opposed to a lack of donors.
Putting additional staff on the front lines meant 3,500 more appointments available per week, compared to before the amber alert was issued.
And 99 percent of appointments were completed each week, compared to 94 percent before the alert, meaning an additional 5,200 blood donations were made per week.
And restrictions placed on hospitals caused blood orders to drop 20 per cent during the amber alert, allowing supplies to recover, the NHS said.
Officials insisted the crisis was solely due to staff shortages and rising Covid rates, rather than a lack of donors.
Most of the donor sessions have been full since the crisis was revealed. But some were appointments canceled at the last minute due to staffing shortages.
In general, blood stocks are now at six days. But A+ stocks are four and a half days away.
Wendy Clark, chief executive of NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “The Amber Alert was a vital measure to protect patients most in need of blood while supplies were low.
“We have worked hard to quickly recover and secure blood stocks and I am very grateful to our staff, donors and hospitals who have helped ensure we can lift the alert as soon as possible.
“We ask hospitals to slowly replenish and order the correct amount of blood they need for patients so that we can make the best use of our donors’ precious blood.
‘We need to continue to fill appointments so we can supply the blood that every patient needs. We have seen an amazing response from our O+ and O- donors.
‘Now we also need A+ donors to come forward. If you are a first-time donor, make an appointment at one of our donor centers before Christmas or New Years.
‘Each blood donation can save or improve up to three lives.’
However, the NHS warned that it still faces a major challenge in recruiting permanent frontline staff. It has launched a new recruitment campaign to recruit staff as quickly as possible.
Since July, 163 donor caregivers and supervisors have taken on duties, with 95 more hired and due to start shortly, while a further 118 positions are being recruited.
And he warned that the winter months are “always a difficult time for blood reserves.”
Cold weather can lead to higher rates of seasonal illnesses, and extreme weather, such as snow or flooding, can also prevent people from traveling to donate blood, as well as interfere with site availability.
This can lead to an increase in cancellations at short notice by donors and the centers themselves if they are severely understaffed that day, making it difficult to collect enough blood.
Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: “I am pleased that blood stocks have improved and the amber alert is lifted.”
He said “the incredible response shows once again how highly valued and respected the NHS is by all those who trust it”.
But O’Brien warned the nation “not to be complacent.”
He said: “More and more blood donation appointments are becoming available and I urge existing donors to continue to book so that we can increase our blood stocks for the Christmas and New Year periods.”
Close to 100 percent of appointments must be completed to maintain blood supplies. Around 86 percent fills up the next week, but the figure drops to 38 percent in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.