Health system suffers blood shortage amid hospital demand

Surgeries may need to be cancelled or rescheduled if supply is not increased, transfusion service says

The health system is experiencing a shortage of blood as the service is “struggling to stay on top of hospital demand”, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) has said.

Normally, the service seeks to hold seven days’ blood stock, but it currently has only 1.9 days of O negative and 1.7 days of B negative.

Paul McKinney, operations director at the IBTS, said he has never seen the supply of O negative as low as it is now. “O negative is the blood group used for emergencies, such as road accidents. To have it as low as 1.9 days is worrying,” Mr McKinney said.

“Hospitals are trying to play catch up. There are fewer cases in hospitals now, and hospitals are busier now than they were pre-Covid. This is always a challenging time of year; it comes down to supply and demand. We are struggling to stay on top of hospital demand.”

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The IBTS issued a pre-amber communication to hospitals, asking them to be mindful of blood usage.

If the situation worsens, it could result in an amber communication, which would see hospitals being asked to cancel or reschedule non-urgent surgeries.

Blood shortages have been a recurring issue this year, with the State needing to import supplies twice since January, the first time in 30 years blood from abroad has been required.

“We are not keen on doing that again at all. But it is part of our contingency plan. If all else fails, it is an option that is available to us,” Mr McKinney added.

He said although donations have been strong over the past eight weeks, there is a need to increase the number of regular donors.

“We didn’t recruit as many new donors during the Covid-19 pandemic as we normally would. Because of social distancing, we just used our regular donors,” he added.

“However, only 3 per cent of those eligible actually donate. We need to get younger people to buy into blood donation so it becomes a normal part. And it’s not just a one-off blood donation — we need people to continue donating blood for as long as they can.”

The service is appealing to people who have donated in the past to make an appointment to donate.

People interested in donating blood for the first time should visit giveblood.ie, where there is a quiz to see if they are eligible for donation now, Mr McKinney said.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times