Northern Ireland’s blood stocks could hit dangerously low levels as the worsening economic climate sparks a significant drop in the number of people giving blood, it was warned today.
Even the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) is not immune to the knock-on effects of the recession as it revealed the difficult year it is preparing for as a direct result of the ailing economy.
The service relies on around 66,000 voluntary donations of blood each year to enable it to meet the emergency demands of every single hospital across Northern Ireland.
The NIBTS relies on one tenth of those donations to come from the workplace through companies and employers encouraging employees to give blood when one of its mobile units comes to visit.
But that source of support has come under extreme pressure in recent months as many of the service’s supporting employers have been forced to lay off hundreds of workers and are no longer able to allow staff time out to give blood.
Charles Kinney, donor services general manager at NIBTS, said that many of its top 10 corporate supporters come from the technology and engineering sectors which have been hit hard by the recession: “When we look at our figures towards the end of last year, we saw a drop of a third in donations from those top 10 companies. That’s not taking into account the significant numbers of workers who were let go after Christmas,” he said.
“We have in the past had so many companies willing to let staff out to one of our mobile units. Their support has been magnificent and we have relied strongly on those employees to meet our demands for blood.
“But the 2008 downward trend is definitely affecting us. We’ve learned it doesn’t take much of a hit to the economy to hit us.”
Mr Kinney said that blood donation levels could act as an unexpected barometer for the changing economy.
“We have always said ‘if you want an indication of how the economy is changing, ask what’s happening at the blood transfusion service’,” he said.
“Looking back over the years, there was once a time when we had so many employees of Harland and Wolff willing to give blood that it took a full week to collect it all.
“We don’t go there at all now — that’s how the economy works. All employers are of course trying to be more efficient and that might mean things like changing working hours. All these little changes feed into the dropping levels of donations for us,” he added.
There are many different types of blood, some rarer than others.
There are four main categories of blood which are also split in positive and negative.
The category your type falls into determines who can receive your blood — and which type you could be transfused with.
Frequency of major blood groups in the UK: O + 37%, O — 7%, A + 35%, A — 7%, B + 8%, B — 2%, AB + 3%, AB — 1%.
Blood donations are used to save the life of someone in trouble within five days. This is where donations in Northern Ireland go:
There at two fixed places in Northern Ireland where you can donate blood. The first is at the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Centre, based on the Belfast City Hospital site. You can also donate at a centre on College Street in Belfast. The service operates three mobile units which drive all over the province to collect blood. One of them is based in Omagh. Regular donors will be called every 16 weeks to give blood. For further information on where you can give blood, log on to www.nibts.org or call 028 9032 1414.
By Claire Harrison
The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service has appealed to the public to help boost its blood stocks as they come under significant pressure from both the ailing economy and the recent flu outbreak.
The Belfast Telegraph is joining forces with the life-saving service to drive home the importance of giving blood for thousands of people in emergency medical need — such as cancer patients and accident victims.
The NIBTS is responsible for the collection, testing and distribution of the 66,000 blood donations needed by all hospitals and clinical units across Northern Ireland every year.
And it relies completely on the dedication of volunteers in gathering enough units every year to meet critical demand.
The aim of ‘It’s Your Lifeblood’ is to highlight the daily work of the NIBTS in saving lives and the importance of public donations.
Charles Kinney, NIBTS donor services general manager, said stock levels have been hit hard since November and the service is in urgent need of new donors.
“We always see a dip in donation levels before Christmas when people’s minds are on other things,” he said.
“We know to expect that traditional decline but we then had the added problem of the cold and flu outbreak taking its toll on the number of people we had to turn away.
“Blood collection came under significant pressure when our deferral rate rose from 20% to 22%, meaning that more than one in five people were ineligible on the day of the session.
“That might not sound like much of a rise but just 1% is the equivalent of 600-700 donations for us.”
The manager pointed out that even when blood stocks are running at normal levels, a major incident involving someone with a rare blood group can completely wipe out stocks of that type.
For example, just last week, overall stocks were running at a ‘satisfactory’ level, meaning the target of having five days worth was being met, but O negative was in particularly high demand and there was just three days worth of it.
Mr Kinney said 9,000 new donors will need to be found to top-up the current list of regular donors to keep running at a safe level.
Urging people to come along and give blood, Mr Kinney said it was a “very simple way of saving someone’s life”.
“If you look at the groups of people who need blood most — cancer patients, people undergoing surgery, accident victims — how many people know someone who has fallen into one of those categories at some time? And, of course, no-one knows what’s around the corner or when you might fall into one of these categories yourself,” he added.