NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has declared its first-ever amber alert status as blood supplies have dropped to a critically low level.
Some non-urgent surgeries could be postponed, such as hip replacements, however all emergency and cancer procedures will go ahead.
NHSBT aims to hold above six days of blood stocks, but levels are currently predicted to fall below two days which is the threshold for an amber alert. A spokeswoman for the service said current overall blood stocks in the NHS stand at 3.1 days.
However, levels of O type blood have fallen to below two days. O negative blood is the universal blood type which can be given to everyone, which makes it important during emergencies and when the blood type of the recipient is unknown.
Ongoing staffing issues are behind the current amber alert, with more staff needed to work at donor sessions. The amber alert will last initially for four weeks which should enable blood stocks to be rebuilt.
Hospitals have now been asked to put in place management plans to protect blood stocks, which could mean postponing some non-urgent elective surgeries to ensure blood is prioritised for patients who need it most.
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 1% of all surgery.
These surgeries could be swapped for other types 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.
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.
Wendy Clark, interim chief executive of NHSBT 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, chair of the National Blood Transfusion Committee said: “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.”
You can 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, or visiting the website blood.co.uk.