The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) has issued an appeal for people to donate blood, as it grapples with a shortfall in blood supplies over recent weeks.
The State blood supply agency last week wrote to hospitals putting them on notice over the shortages and asking for the healthcare service to conserve stocks of blood where possible.
While the IBTS aims to have seven days’ stock of each blood type at all times, it currently only has three days of supply in most groups.
The agency is appealing for additional blood donations in an effort to avoid having to issue an “amber alert”, which would mean hospitals would likely have to cancel elective surgeries due to blood stock shortages.
Paul McKinney, IBTS director of donor services and logistics, said issuing an amber alert would have an “an immediate implication for hospitals and for elective surgical procedures requiring blood support”.
“The target is to get an additional 2,000 donations over the next five weeks so we can significantly increase our blood supply levels,” he said.
“There has been a consistently strong hospital demand for blood and we need to boost our collections by nearly 400 donations per week to meet it,” he said.
The blood supply service often sees a dip in donations during the summer, when donors may be on holidays or have other commitments.
While stocks of blood would have been imported during previous shortages, other countries, such as the UK, are also experiencing supply shortfalls at present.
The number of new donors signing up for the first time has also fallen significantly following the Covid-19 pandemic, the IBTS said.
Speaking on RTÉ radio‘s Morning Ireland, Mr McKinney said: “The number of new donors over the last number of years has dropped. We currently have an active donor base of around 85,000. Pre-Covid, we were getting around 17,500 to 18,000 new donors. We’ve dropped significantly and we’re about half that at the moment.
“So we have work to do to try and encourage new donors to come back and refresh the panel. Also, hospital demand is very high. For the first quarter of this year, we issued more red cells and platelets than we have for the last ten years. So demand is high from the hospitals. We really need the support of donors, it’s really a supply and demand challenge.”
Explaining the significance of the alert system in place, Mr McKinney added: “When we get to three days supply, we issue a pre-Amber warning to the hospitals, which is to inform them that our stocks are short. We are taking action to try and correct that. And we ask them to reduce their stockholding where we can and we work with them in terms of the units that we issue to them.
“And hence we take actions such as asking or launching a national appeal to avoid going to the next step, which is an Amber Alert. We’ve never had to do it in Ireland before. An Amber Alert is a situation where hospitals are asked to consider what elective surgeries actually manage not to do or postpone until we get the stock levels back to where they need to be.”