Amber alert issued on blood stocks – existing O Neg and O Pos donors asked to make appointments

12 October 2022

NHS Blood and Transplant has triggered an “amber alert” – which came into force today - meaning hospitals have been asked to put in place management plans to protect blood stocks. This could mean postponing some non-urgent elective surgeries to ensure blood is prioritised for patients who need it most.

NHSBT is urging donors to help by filling empty appointments at permanent donor centres in towns and cities which have extended hours and greater capacity. O blood groups are in particular need. Log into your account or use the NHS Give Blood app to check appointment availability. Each donation can save or improve up to three lives.

Decisions will be taken by individual hospitals but the types of surgery that could be postponed are non-urgent such as hip replacements which make up around one per cent of all surgery. These could be swapped for other surgeries such as hernia repairs, gall-bladder removal and eye surgery which do not require blood to be on standby.

Hospitals will continue to carry out any urgent, emergency or trauma surgery, cancer surgery, transplant surgery and blood transfusions to treat people with long term conditions.

The amber alert will last initially for four weeks which should enable blood stocks to be rebuilt.

NHS Blood and Transplant aims to hold above six days of blood stocks, however levels are currently predicted to fall below two days which is the threshold for an amber alert.

Wendy Clark, Interim Chief Executive of NHS Blood and Transplant 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.

“Patients are our focus. I sincerely apologise to those patients who may see their surgery postponed because of this.

“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.”

Professor Cheng-Hock Toh CBE, Chair of the National Blood Transfusion Committee

“I know that all hospital transfusion services, up and down the country, are working flat out to ensure that blood will be available for emergencies and urgent surgeries.

“We will continue to work closely and collaboratively with NHSBT and with surgeons and anaesthetists, in particular, to minimize any inconvenience and problems to patients.”

Maintaining blood stocks has been an ongoing challenge in the aftermath of the pandemic primarily due to staff shortages and sickness but also due to a change in donor behaviour as people are less likely to visit collection centres in towns and cities. NHS Blood and Transplant has been working through a raft of measures to stabilise the situation.

As well as appealing to hospitals for support, NHS Blood and Transplant is working at pace to mobilise more staff to the frontline to scale up collection capacity. This includes:

  • Moving more staff to the frontline to open up more appointments.
  • Speeding up recruitment to fill vacant positions across Blood Donation teams, resourcing roles through permanent and agency people.
  • Improving wellbeing support and taking supportive action to enable people to return to work following absence.
  • Improving retention rates.

Blood can only be stored for 35 days, which means there is a constant need for donations – and a need for specific blood types. The NHS Blood and Transplant appointment system carefully balances the supply of blood with the changing demand from patients and hospitals. Collecting too much blood and the wrong type would mean lifesaving blood is wasted and hospitals may not have the right type available for patients when they need it.
NHS Blood and Transplant is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, the other UK blood services and hospitals to manage the current stock shortage.

  • Book appointments and check the latest guidance on Covid-19 and giving blood by calling 0300 123 23 23, downloading the NHS Give Blood app.
  • If you are fit and healthy please make an appointment to donate. If you need to cancel please give at least three days’ notice so the place can be offered to another donor. Give blood and help save or improve up to three lives. All it takes is just one hour of your time.