Not enough blood donations, scarce blood supplies

Worried about the holiday season
Scarce blood – the situation in NRW hospitals is so critical

There is concern that the holiday season could further exacerbate blood shortages, leaving only emergency care covered. How the situation is concrete and what that means.

In many clinics, phone calls to procure blood products have become a top priority. This always happens when the supply approaches a critical level. There is a lack of blood. Overall, the German Red Cross (DRK) speaks of a nationwide critical supply situation. This also affects the clinics in North Rhine-Westphalia and the region.

The Blood Donation Service West of the German Red Cross (BSD West) has had to cut the delivery of blood supplies to hospitals by half. It not only supplies hospitals in North Rhine-Westphalia, but also in Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland with up to 3,500 blood units a day. “There were times 30 percent fewer donations than planned and the need of the hospitals was also higher,” says Daniel Beiser, spokesman for the BSD West.

As a result, hospitals sometimes receive fewer blood supplies than they order. The blood available on the market is often only sufficient for emergency care, says Hubert Parys, medical director of the Sana Clinic in Benrath. “We’re driving on the last groove,” says Sascha indicator, senior physician of the center for emergency medicine at the BG-Klinikum Duisburg.

On some days, the rescue helicopter had to leave without blood on board. “We normally keep two blood bags in the helicopter,” says indicator. Due to the scarcity, this was not always possible. It is only thanks to luck that no blood was needed during the missions of the rescue helicopter on these critical days.

Other clinics such as the Sankt Marien Hospital in Ratingen also report the lack of blood supplies. The clinics of the Pro Homine network in Wesel and Emmerich also speak of an “extremely tense situation”. Although most clinics have not yet had to cancel any planned operations, everyone emphasizes that the situation is serious.

“If there is a further decrease, it could come to the point that we can only supply blood to emergencies such as traffic accidents or patients with internal bleeding and postpone all interventions that are not life-threatening from a medical point of view,” explains the Benrath Sana Clinic.

In the large university care facilities such as the University Hospital Düsseldorf or the University Medicine Essen, most treatments cannot be postponed due to the seriously ill patient collective. “We can still serve the clinic,” says Christian Temme, transfusion doctor at the University Medicine Essen. In other clinics, however, planned operations could no longer take place. The BDS West also reports isolated surgical failures in hospitals.

For all clinics, the prevailing lack of blood means great exertion. “Especially when blood is scarce, you have to make sure that the blood that is available is distributed well and effectively,” says Temme. In the University Medical Center Essen, which is the first smart hospital to be a pioneer in terms of digitization, you can rely on the support of artificial intelligence.

In all clinics, organizing and distributing blood supplies takes a lot of energy. Only through enormous effort, intensive contact with the blood donation services and a lot of creativity has it been possible to prevent operations in the Duisburg accident clinic from having to be postponed, reports transfusion medicine specialist Indicator.

It is not possible to predict when and where specific blood supplies will be missing. The Helios Klinikum Krefeld has particular restrictions with blood group “0”, which can be used universally with people of all blood groups, and with those with the RhD-negative property. According to information from the Sana Clinic Benrath, the situation is extremely urgent for rare blood groups such as blood group “AB negative” or “B negative”.

Due to the scarce resources, clinics and blood donation services have increasingly called for donations in recent weeks. The BG Klinikum Duisburg started calls on social media such as Instagram. Although this will bring the situation back to normal for a short time, the BSD West feared “that this would not be sustainable and that we would face new challenges in the summer holidays”.

Every year around Pentecost, the blood donations are declining. During the summer holidays, blood becomes even more scarce. The reason: People travel – so potential blood donors are gone. What exacerbates the problem: Blood preserves have a limited shelf life – specifically a maximum of 42 days, says Temme. At some point the blood will be scarce for that reason alone.

The shortage is particularly pronounced this year, says Hubert Schrezenmeier, chairman of the German Society for Transfusion Medicine and Immunohematology (DGTI) and head of transfusion medicine at the Ulm Clinic. In addition to the public holidays and the holiday season, the good weather also means that people prefer to pursue leisure activities instead of donating blood. Hobbies and travel would be made up for after the corona restrictions were lifted. As have many surgeries that have been postponed due to the pandemic.

In addition to being used in operations and in the care of seriously injured people, statistically speaking, blood products are most frequently required in cancer therapy. Plasma products obtained from blood donations are necessary, for example, in the care of patients with blood clotting disorders.

In order to persuade more people to donate blood and thus permanently counteract the blood shortage, the DRK has introduced various ideas into the political discussion. The Ministry of Finance is currently examining the tax deductibility of blood donations as a deductible donation in kind. The DRK would also welcome it if blood donations were counted as working time or time credits based on the model “donate blood four times a year for an additional day of vacation”. It should also be considered whether the health insurance companies with their bonus programs should be involved in health care. Some institutions offer other financial incentives such as expense allowances for donors.

Physicians at the University Medical Center have developed an app that is intended to make donating blood more attractive and easier. The application, which is available for both Android and I-Phones, allows you to make appointments directly, is reminded of donation campaigns and also has the option of entering your own health data determined during the donation.

“Statistically speaking, every third German citizen needs a blood product at least once in their life,” says Michael Hoor, medical director and chief physician for anesthesia and intensive care at the St. Martinus Hospital in Düsseldorf. Blood donation is important. “In an emergency, all of us want a suitable blood supply to be available at all times,” says Hoor. He therefore sees blood donations as a very personal contribution, with which anyone over the age of 18 can help other people.