The NHS is facing a shortage of blood amid soaring demand from sickle cell disease patients, prompting senior health officials to issue an urgent call for more black donors.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said a record level of blood donations are needed every day to treat people with sickle cell disease. The rising demand for more care than ever before is because it is the “fastest growing genetic condition in the UK”, it said.
Demand for blood to treat sickle cell disease has jumped by about 67% in the last five years. NHSBT said 250 donations are now required every day to help people with sickle cell, when five years ago only about 150 donations a day were needed.
“Sickle cell disproportionately affects people from a Black African or Black Caribbean background and these new figures show hospitals need more blood for people with sickle cell disease than ever before,” said NHS England’s director of healthcare inequalities improvement, Dr Bola Owolabi. “I urge anyone from these communities who is able to give blood to step forward and help treat the thousands of people living with this painful hereditary condition.”
NHSBT said “ethnically matched blood provides the best treatment” for the condition.
Health officials say rising demand is being driven by increasing patient numbers, patients living longer, and more people receiving “complete blood transfusions”. Currently, the NHS is only able to provide matched blood for just over half of the hospital requests.
Other patients need to be treated with O negative, the universal blood type, which is clinically safe but in the long-term can lead to complications.
About 55% of black people have an Ro blood type, compared with 2% of the wider population. “There is not enough Ro blood available for sickle cell patients to meet hospital demand,” an NHSBT briefing note added.
People with sickle cell disease produce unusually shaped red blood cells that can cause problems because these cells do not live as long as healthy blood cells and can block blood vessels. This can lead to “agonising crisis episodes” and potentially fatal complications including organ damage or stroke.
It is a serious and lifelong health condition although treatment can help manage many of the symptoms. Many patients with sickle cell need regular blood transfusions to stay alive.
Oyesola Oni, 39, from Nottingham, needs all her blood replaced by donor blood every five weeks due to sickle cell. She said: “I would urge people of black heritage to step out and donate. It’s in your blood to help people like me.”
Dr Rekha Anand, a consultant in transfusion medicine for NHSBT, said: “Matched blood is vital for sickle cell patients to reduce the risk of serious complications and black people are more likely to be able to donate matched blood.
“There has been a small rise in black people donating blood but we urgently need more to become regular donors. Giving blood is easy, quick and safe – and you will save and improve lives.”