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A woman giving blood
Photograph: Seventy Four / Shutterstock.com

The NHS is running critically low on blood: here’s why you should donate now

The NHS has issued its first-ever amber alert as stock levels stand at 3.1 days

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson
Contributor
Ellie Muir
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Look, we all know that we should give blood. Maybe you’re slightly afraid of needles, or worry that you’ll be turned away because your blood isn’t healthy enough. Maybe you’re thinking ‘I’ll donate when my calendar is less busy’ or ‘enough people are donating already, I’ll do it next year’.

It’s easy enough to make an excuse not to bother. But if you need an excuse to bother, this could be one of the best you’ll get. The National Health Service is currently running critically low on blood stocks, and donors are being encouraged to book an appointment to give blood as soon as possible.

In August, we reported that there were serious concerns about the UK’s blood stocks. The NHS aims to hold six days of overall supplies, but levels had fallen to just 3.7 days. Now the health department that manages blood donations has declared its first-ever amber alert as stocks have fallen even lower. They currently stand at 3.1 days, and levels of O-type blood have fallen to below two days.

Hospitals have been told to protect and conserve their supplies, meaning non-urgent operations requiring blood could be postponed to ensure they are prioritised for patients who need them most. Wendy Clark, interim chief executive of NHS Blood and Transport, 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.

‘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.’

Betty Njuguna, the chief nurse at NHS Blood and Transport, said that the NHS especially needs more donors of Black heritage to help patients with sickle cell disease who need closely matched blood. Mary Adet, a 29-year-old from London, was born with the disease: a condition affecting red blood cells causing sickle cell crises and hospitalisation, as well as infections, strokes and other symptoms.

Six years ago, Adet was put on a blood exchange transfusion programme, where red cells are removed from her body every four weeks and replaced with donated red cells. 

‘It’s just become like a regular thing, like when people go to the dentist,’ Adet says. ‘I used to have to go into hospital multiple times a year for extended periods of time. The treatment has definitely improved my quality of life. Instead of spending the majority of the year in hospital, I’m achieving goals, like doing a Masters and trying to live more independently.’

Adet requires ten units of blood every month, equivalent to blood donations from around ten people. ‘The process of donating – taking maybe 40 minutes out of your day – is a small trade-off for the benefits it has to another patient’s life,’ Adet says. ‘They say this a lot, but one donation could really save or improve three lives.’

Keen to help out? The easiest way to donate blood is by visiting one of the NHS’s local permanent donor centres which generally have better appointment availability than community blood donor sessions (the ones in neighbourhood venues like church halls).

And even if your local sessions are full for the time being, you can still make a future appointment to help throughout the year. Since fresh blood can only be stored for 35 days and there’s a constant need for donations for specific blood types, a steady supply of blood is needed all year round, all over the country. 

To register as a blood donor, visit blood.co.uk or the Give Blood app, or call 0300 123 23 23.

ICYMI: here’s how you can get £400 off your energy bills this winter.

Plus: here are two new tell-tale signs of Covid to look out for.

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