What is an orange warning?
The NHS has an official traffic light system for dealing with low blood levels.
Currently England is set to ‘amber’, which means hospitals should ‘reduce and prioritize’ blood use.
Elective surgeries, such as hip replacements, may be canceled.
But urgent or emergency, cancer and transplant operations will all continue as normal for the time being.
For today, the NHS was in the pre-amber stage. NHS staff were advised to be careful about wasting stock and to try and hold back blood groups that are most likely running low.
The next phase, red, would force hospitals to ration blood supplies only for emergencies.
How much blood does the NHS have?
NHS Blood and Transplant said the current total blood supply in the NHS stands at 3.1 days.
It aims to have stock for at least six days.
Levels of O negative blood have fallen below the two day mark.
Stocks O positive (2.12), A positive (2.83), B negative (3.29) and AB negative (3.83) are also all below the threshold.
O negative is the universal type that can be given to anyone.
It is vital during emergencies and when the recipient’s blood type is unknown.
B-positive, an important blood group for treating people with sickle cell disease, has 6.2 days’ worth of supplies, while A-negative (7.12) and AB-positive (9.94) are also both above target.
Does the NHS also have a shortage of platelets?
Meanwhile, platelet levels are below the one-day supply minimum for the O-positive and A-positive types.
Platelets control the bleeding in our bodies and thus can be essential for survival from surgeries such as organ transplants, as well as fighting cancer, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries.
Donor platelets are given to patients who don’t have enough on their own, a condition known as thrombocytopenia, or when a person’s platelets aren’t working correctly.
But substitutions are available for platelets when they are not available, unlike regular blood supplies.
What does this mean for hospitals?
An email sent to hospital bosses has told them to postpone elective surgery, which will likely require donated blood.
The emergency measure could cancel thousands of routine operations.
This may include joint replacements, which require adequate blood supplies in case a patient bleeds heavily.
Decisions are made by individual hospitals.
But hospitals can book other surgeries instead, such as hernia repairs, gallbladder removal, and eye surgery, which don’t require blood on standby.
There are already about 6.5 million patients on waiting lists for such surgeries, and about 300,000 are waiting at least a year.
Why are stocks low?
The current orange warning is also thought to be due to ongoing staffing problems, requiring more staff to work at donor sessions.
NHSBT claimed holding stocks has been a challenge in the wake of Covid, in part because fewer people are visiting collection centers in cities.
But recently, some donors also canceled appointments due to staff shortages.
NHSBT says bookings have been canceled at the last minute due to Covid and other absenteeism.
An NHSBT spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Unfortunately we have had to cancel some appointments – sometimes at the last minute – due to staff absenteeism.
“Persistent staff shortages are caused by accelerated turnover and the time it takes to recruit and train new colleagues.
This has made NHS Blood and Transplant vulnerable to short-term illness, which remains high due to the rise in Covid cases.
“This has led to unavoidable cancellations of large numbers of donor appointments, affecting collections and stock levels.”
Is there a possible solution?
Experts say an essential tool that can help procedures continue is being neglected in NHS hospitals.
A drug called tranexamic acid reduces major blood loss by a quarter if given before surgery.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that it be given to all patients undergoing major surgery.
But an audit of 152 NHS hospitals last year revealed that only two-thirds of eligible patients were offered the £2 per dose drug.
A report published last month in the British Journal of Anesthesia claimed that giving the shot to all hospital patients could prevent 15,000 serious bleeding events a year.
Lead author Professor Ian Roberts, one of Britain’s leading experts on blood loss at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said this could reduce current and future pressures on blood supplies.
He told the Mail On Sunday: ‘It makes perfect sense for doctors and patients. It’s a low-cost, low-risk intervention that will save tens of thousands of blood units and lives.’
Currently, about 13,000 Britons die every year as a result of heavy bleeding during surgery.
He added: “Not only do more doctors need to offer tranexamic acid, but we want every patient undergoing surgery to know that they can and should ask for it.”
How can I donate blood?
To donate blood you can register online at www.blood.co.uk or call 0300 123 23 23.
When you log in to your account, you can find an appointment.
When the news of the orange alert broke, the blood donor’s website became very busy, with people queuing.
NHS Blood and Transplantation said: ‘You can make an appointment to give blood as soon as you register as a blood donor.
“But the next suitable appointment may not be right away. This may be because we already have a good stock of your blood type.
“People need blood all year round, so your donation will still save lives even if your appointment is in a few months.”
There are 25 major permanent sites where you can donate. They are in:
Leeds City Center
London West End
London Westfield Shepherd’s Bush
London Westfield Stratford City
Manchester, Plymouth Grove
Manchester, Norfolk House
In addition to these 25 main centers, there are also thousands of temporary community sites where you can donate blood.
What happens if I donate?
When you are comfortably seated, a nurse will put a cuff around your arm to maintain a small amount of pressure during the donation (this does not measure blood pressure).
They then examine your arm to find a suitable vein and clean it with an antiseptic sponge.
A needle is inserted into your arm that collects your blood in a blood bag with your unique donor number.
You should not feel any discomfort or pain. If you do, tell an employee.
A scale weighs the blood and stops when you’ve donated 470ml (or just under a pint). This usually takes between 5-10 minutes.
The needle is removed and a sterile bandage is applied to your arm.
Your donation will be transported to one of our blood centers where it will be tested and processed before being delivered to hospitals.