Bloody disgrace - Storage-bag shortage causes clot at collection centres - Drives to gather vital fluid cancelled, donors turned away

Published: Tuesday | November 10, 2009

Arthur Hall and Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporters

A MAJOR crisis has developed in the country's blood collection and testing system, as the cash shortage facing the health sector appears to be worsening.

The Gleaner has confirmed that the National Blood Transfusion Service (the Blood Bank) is facing a critical shortage of bags to store blood and the reagent needed to test the blood it collects.

In fact, the problem has reached alarming proportions, with some collection centres having to turn away persons wishing to donate blood because they do not have the bags.

"This is a major crisis because there is usually not enough blood in the system, and when you plead and beg and get persons to agree to donate the blood, we have to be turning them away," a source at the Blood Bank told The Gleaner.

"We had to cancel collection drives for September and October and it looks like the collection drives planned for this month might also have to be cancelled or we will use some expired bags," the source said.

Yesterday, the Blood Bank's collection centre in Port Antonio, Portland, made it clear it was in no position to collect blood because of a shortage of bags.

"I don't know when we will be able to accommodate you. I understand there is a shipment, but I don't know when it will be cleared," someone at the collection centre told The Gleaner when attempts were made to donate blood.

It was a similar story at the May Pen collection centre, while the facilities in St Ann's Bay, Mandeville and the head office in Kingston said they had bags and were in a position to accept the blood donation.

Money owed

At the Cornwall Regional Hospital, a sign posted on the door said blood collection had been suspended until further notice.

One nurse confirmed that blood donations were not being accepted, but she did not say why.

According to the information reaching The Gleaner, the Blood Bank owes its overseas suppliers millions of dollars and that has hampered its efforts to get the specialised bags and reagent.

But acting head of the Blood Bank, Dr Joy Taylor, said the bags had been ordered and could be in the island this week.

"The shortage of bags has not yet had a major impact and a shipment is expected soon, but if they do not arrive, that will be a problem," said Dr Taylor.

However, The Gleaner source at the Blood Bank remained worried, while pointing out that the institution was short of almost 70 units of blood.

Reluctance to donate

That was confirmed by Dr Taylor, who said as of yesterday, the Bank had 250 units in stock instead of its targeted 320.

Dr Taylor, however, said the shortage was more a reflection of the reluctance of Jamaicans to donate blood than the shortage of bags.

Dr Taylor is sitting in for the acting director of the Blood Bank, Dr Evadne Williams, who is on contract break.

According to The Gleaner source, the greatest worry now is that the Bustamante Hospital For Children is scheduled to conduct heart surgeries this month, and if the bags are not here, the Blood Bank might not have enough supplies for those children.

Nagra Plunkett, Western Bureau news coordinator, also contributed to this story.

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