Conference Calls For Lifting of Blanket Blood Ban As Blood Supplies Fall

donate-bloodA two-day consensus conference of experts, which was convened by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) has reviewed its position on banning blood donations from gay men, and is awaiting the Department of Health’s go-ahead to change this policy.

The conference felt that after a review of research in other countries, according to IBTS medical director, Dr William Murphy, there would not be any significant increase in transmission of HIV through blood products by transfusion, in allowing the ban to change from a lifetime ban to a five-year, or one-year, as is the policy in the UK and other countries at present.

There has been concern over the levels of supplies for various reasons over the last several months, including the failure of a haemoglobin measuring device, and iron deficiency in some women donors.

In advance of St Patrick’s weekend and the Easter holiday period, the IBTS was concerned that it would not be able to maintain supplies to hospitals over those coming two weeks. While hospital requirements had been down in recent months (-4%), donation levels dropped significantly (10-12%).

Operations Director Paddy Bowler said at the time:

“Donors have been attending in their usual numbers over the last 6 weeks. However blood donations have remained low due to the fallout from the haemoglobin measurement technology issue identified at the beginning of November”.

“Up to October 2015, one in seven donors attending clinics were unable to donate for various reasons. Since November 2015 this has worsened to one in four attending donors being unable to donate. The increase is caused entirely by donors presenting with haemoglobin levels below permitted EU donation limits. In recent weeks the IBTS has requested hospitals to conserve use of blood groups O negative and B negative”.

“…..blood supply levels of the main blood groups stand between 4 and 5 days. While the knock on effect of low haemoglobin levels is expected to last for some time, it is imperative donors come forward over the next few weeks to safeguard blood supplies during the extended holiday period of St Patrick’s Day and Easter”.

In addition to normal clinics, IBTS had even scheduled an additional 6 mobile clinics on Sunday March 20th to facilitate extra donations. These clinics were held in Raheny, Carrickmacross, Waterford, Sligo, Carrigaline and Aherlow.

The bouts of very bad weather had also affected supplies, as donors were not venturing out to donate blood.

The IBTS called for blood donors to make a special effort to give blood over the coming weeks as the sustained bad weather has adversely impacted the blood supply.

“In the 3 week period since December 21st last, donor attendance at clinics has been significantly affected by the bad weather.  In flooded areas of the country safety advice has been to make only journeys that are absolutely necessary,” said Operations Director, Paddy Bowler.

“This has resulted in blood supply levels of the main blood groups at 3 days. This will only sustain hospitals for the next 3-4 days.  Blood is in constant demand the IBTS aims to[m] hold 7 days supply across the blood groups.  In an effort to improve the supply levels and maintain services to patients, the IBTS is asking donors to make a special effort to attend clinics in the next two weeks and if you can, bring a new donor with you”.

Another reason for low supplies is Iron deficiency in female blood donors, and in November 2015, the IBTS suspended taking blood from some women donors, who had given blood in the last 18 months, until every blood sample was checked for haemoglobin (Hb).

“We introduced a new non-invasive point-of-care device in July 2014 to measure the haemoglobin level in blood donors prior to accepting them for donation. We have now discovered that the device gives inaccurate results in some individuals with anaemia down to, and probably below, 8.4 g/dL. As a result of the issue which has now been detected with this new device, some women, and probably a much smaller number of men, could have been rendered iron deficient and anaemic from blood donation in the past 18 months”

said IBTS Medical and Scientific Director Dr William Murphy last November.

“[…] we decided to introduce a full blood count on all female donors – this process is being extended to all male donors this week.  Approximately 20 donors with anaemia who were not detected by the new device, prior to a unit of blood being taken [..], have all been contacted.  In addition [..] for the time being we are suspending taking blood donations from women who have already donated in the last 18 months. We will replace the current version of the device with an alternative as soon as possible. We have contacted the Health Products Regularity Authority in relation to this.  This device is also in use in Austria and some blood donation clinics in Germany”.

The IBTS were to introduce new software to re-analyse all the electronic results from all donors tested and accepted for donation since the introduction of the failed device. Any discrepant results would be notified to the donors involved.

The IBTS also asked that any concerned donors to attend their GP if they are worried that they might be anaemic or iron deficient. The IBTS would meet the cost of attending the GP and iron studies.

Dr Murphy added:

“This is a temporary measure while we resolve the issue that has arisen with the technology, or if this is not possible while we introduce an alternative method of Haemoglobin measurement.  Until we have a resolution to the problem that has arisen, we are asking male donors to attend our clinics and give blood. We need male donors to make an extra effort to donate and maintain the blood supply.  We will be double checking all Haemoglobin results on these donors”.

He concluded:

“we are confident that this issue with our new haemoglobin level measurment device has not had any impact on blood received by patients.  We are determined to have this matter resolved as soon as possible”.

– M. Butler



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