The national blood supply is now up over a worrying threshold, following concerns after a consignment of negative blood groups was imported from the UK due to the impact of COVID-19 in the last fortnight.
Operating as a non-commercial state agency under the Department of Health, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) reported that appointments were up 21 per cent, as a result of 3,000 expressions of interest made in response to a national call for urgent blood donations.
IBTS Chief Executive Orla O’Brien stressed that the national organisation responsible for supplying blood to all public and private hospitals in the country was battling with “tight supply and demand” and that “despite the excellent work of donors throughout the pandemic”, the decision to import blood in bulk for the first time since the late 1990s was made to “avoid creating a national alert”.
Each year the IBTS signs up 20,000 new donors to its system, however; last year this figure fell by 60 per cent to only 7,500 new donors. “We need to get new donors into the system. All efforts and local appeals were unable to get stock levels up last week. Patient’s surgeries could have been cancelled. We did not want to perpetuate with everything that is going on in the health service now, so we opted to import,” the trained general and paediatric nurse told The Clare Echo.
Responding quickly to a rapidly evolving situation as the pandemic hit, the IBTS switched overnight to an appointment-based system in order to “maintain the national blood supply”. Mobilising a staff of over 600 to work remotely, adhering to new guidelines and enlisting the help of the Civil Defence were some of the challenges faced. Undoubtedly the most pressing of these was getting donors into clinics. Logistical issues arose in counties like Clare, where the repurposing of the Treacys West County Hotel donation clinic as a vaccination centre added extra strain on maintaining the national quota of 3,000 units of blood collected each week.
Local GP at the Ennis Family Medical Centre, Dr Máire Finn stressed the importance of giving blood. She pitted the recent drive as a consequence of the return of elective surgeries which were cancelled due to the pandemic. She emphasised the necessity for hospitals to have blood on standby, particularly in the case of orthopaedic, abdominal or post-partum bleeds. A regular donor herself, she acknowledged that “it could be any of us in one of those situations”.
Similar sentiments were expressed by principal of Ballycar NS Mary Warren, who began donating blood in March 2011 after her youngest daughter had cardiac surgery in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin in March 2011 but did not need to have a blood transfusion unlike so many, very young children who did. ” As a result of witnessing this first hand, I decided then to become a donor. One in four people will need a blood transfusion at some stage in their Ives and I would encourage those that are healthy to offer this life giving gift”.