National blood shortage gets Canadians donating

National News

NEW Blood shortage Lance Bull-Hugo Wong-2_webCanadian Blood Services (CBS) issued an appeal to Canadians at the beginning of October encouraging Canadians to donate in light of a concerning drop in inventory levels. The last shortage was in 2008.

The normal on-hand supply based on average hospital demand is 5-8 days, but the inventory, managed at a national level, recently dropped to a 3-day on-hand supply, “which is way too tight from our perspective,” said David Patterson, CBS Director of Donor Relations for the B.C. and Yukon regions.

CBS is a national inventory, and ships supplies across the country based on need. The shortage has led to cutting some of these shipments. “We can’t wait until it gets too bad, which is why we sounded the alarm; we don’t want to see this get any lower,” Patterson said.

The shortage is mostly attributed to appointment cancellations and no-shows, a “problem that we’ve seen grow in the past 6-8 months,” he said. CBS is evaluating what they can do to fix the problem internally.

Since the appeal, CBS has witnessed a growth in new donors, and a return of old donors, “which is really what we need to keep the system working,” Patterson said. Blood is a product needing consistent replenishment. Platelets are viable up to five days, and fresh blood up to 42 days.

“In the last week, Canadians have been tremendous about responding to that plea, and we certainly made up some of that ground. We continue to look for new donors,” he said.

Deferral policies prevent risk of contaminating the blood supply, turning away individuals who have had a tattoo in the last 6 months, or men who have had sex with men (MSM) in the last five years.

“Our MSM policy is really defined with the patient in mind,” he said,

“The last thing we ever want to be concerned about is [whether or not] the unit of blood that [a patient] may get [while] undergoing cancer surgery, or any other form of surgery, … is safe. We take very great lengths to ensure we protect the blood supply.”

Second-year UVic visual arts student Sadie Nielsen attempts to donate blood every 56 days. The 19-year-old has donated blood 12 times.

“I’ve been trying to do my part,” she said. “I often encourage my friends to give blood if they can. In the past I volunteered with CBS, but I try to spread the word. I think it’s a really good way to give back to the community without taking too much of your time.”

Nielsen has been turned away for low iron levels on occasion, but continues to donate when she is eligible. “There are so many different ways you can be turned down for donating blood. When you’re young, less of those things will apply. You’re at the healthiest point of your life.”

UVic will be hosting a blood donation clinic from Nov. 25-27, with over 100 appointments available. Prospective donors can also find a clinic or make an appointment using the Canadian Blood Services app, or by visiting