With regularly-scheduled blood drives at schools, shopping malls and corporate offices being cancelled in the interest of social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, medical professionals are worried about the possibility of a nationwide blood shortage.
Danna Henderson, a licensed practical nurse at All Nations Healing Hospital in Fort Qu’Appelle, said she and her colleagues are concerned because they depend on reliable access to blood products to keep their patients alive.
According to Henderson, even as hospitals are cancelling or postponing their elective surgeries, blood transfusions will still be needed for many patients including those who are pregnant, need emergency surgery or are undergoing cancer treatment.
“We have a patient [whose treatment involves blood transfusions] and possibly this person may not be able to get blood next week because of everything that’s happening,” she said. “That’s a conversation you have to have with that person, if there’s no blood available. What do you do? It’s not an easy thing – these people know their diagnosis, and they know these treatments are allowing them to live.”
Canadian Blood Services (CBS), which reported an approximately 20 per cent drop in donations in early March, put out an urgent social media appeal encouraging donors to come in last month.
According to Jennifer Dareichuk, associate director of donor relations for Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the public’s response has been strong enough to stave off a critical blood shortage.
“When the pandemic started … we saw a spike in cancellations nationally, which was concerning to us,” Dareichuk said. “So we needed to make sure the public understood that we were still operating and that there’s still patients in hospitals who are going to need blood throughout this time.
“We saw a great response from that call and are continuing to see that response – since we put out the call, donations are at the levels where we need them to be.”
Since our call for support, in light of COVID-19, we have seen a notable increase in blood donations which is helping to…
Dareichuk emphasized that it remains safe to visit clinics, though anyone who is not feeling healthy is asked to stay home. CBS has introduced new safety protocols at their donation centres to ensure staff, volunteers and donors are all protected.
“We’ve introduced a wellness checkpoint at the donor centres with some health and COVID-related questions,” said Dareichuk. “We are practicing physical distancing within our donor centres, so anyone entering our facilities needs to be mindful of the physical markers.
“We’ve also moved to an appointment-only system. Under normal circumstances we can accommodate walk-ins, but at this point in time we’re only accepting appointments because it helps us manage our physical distancing better.”
At the CBS donation centre in Saskatoon, donors have been instructed to stand on yellow tape that has been stuck to the floor throughout the facility, keeping them two meters apart from one another as they wait in line, fill out forms and eat their snacks. Surfaces are wiped down every few minutes, and all the staff and volunteers wear masks and gloves. Donors no longer sign their own consent forms on the digital pad – a nurse asks for verbal consent, then signs it for them.
While donation levels have climbed since CBS initially asked the public for help, Dareichuk said there is an ongoing need for donors. Some blood components have a very short shelf life – platelets, for example, a type of blood cell, can only be stored for five to seven days after donation – so a spate of donor cancellations in a brief period of time can easily cause a shortage.
Henderson said many of her nursing colleagues have already donated – she herself is hoping to go next week – and stressed the importance of all who are able doing the same.
“Everybody should donate if they can,” she said. “I know right now is not the best time for a lot of people, but they’re literally saving lives and it’s going to help us down the road.”
Julia Peterson donates blood in Saskatoon on April 7, 2020. Video by Julia Peterson.
Dareichuk said she believes CBS will be able to meet the nationwide need for blood products throughout this pandemic, provided the public response remains strong.
“We have a commitment to Canadians, and we’re putting a number of measures in place to make sure we are maintaining that commitment,” she said. “I’m confident we’re going to continue to do that.
“We saw a good response from the public when we put up the call for donations a couple weeks ago and I think, as this situation continues on, Canadians will continue to respond to ensure that we get through this.”
Information on whether you are eligible to donate blood and how to schedule an appointment with a CBS centre in your area is available at blood.ca.