20 November 2020

Pressure on blood and plasma donors as supplies drop to critical levels

| Michael Weaver
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Donor Immy with staff at the Red Cross Plasma Donor Centre in Civic

Donor Immy with staff at the Red Cross Plasma Donor Centre in Civic. Photo: Supplied.

In three months, Canberra musician and plasterer Scott Billerwell has gone from working and playing music to not being able to tie his shoelaces due to a neurological disorder that results in progressive weakness and loss of feeling in his legs and arms.

To stop the condition called CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) from progressing, Scott relies on the plasma of at least 130 donors each month.

Scott is raising awareness of the need to donate blood or plasma at a time when donations have dropped to less than two days’ supply nationally.

“Plasma helps rebuild the myelin which surrounds my nerves and keeps me with some kind of mobility. Without it, I’d probably be in a wheelchair by now,” Scott said while speaking with Region Media in slip-on shoes from atop the Brindabella Ranges (while he still can).

“I’d heard of donating blood, but didn’t know you could donate plasma every two weeks. I can’t plaster any more so I’m actually out of a job and thinking of applying to help with the Red Cross Lifeblood team.

“We really need to raise awareness of donating blood or plasma as I’d hate to see other people in the same situation I’m in.”

Scott Billerwell

Scott Billerwell now needs the plasma from more than 130 donors a month to help with a condition called CIDP. Photo: Supplied.

Blood and plasma supplies in Canberra have also dropped by half, which is usually four to five days’ supply. The situation has been compounded by more than 630 no shows or cancellations to appointments at the Civic or Garran centres.

Red Cross Lifeblood’s Canberra account manager Sally Gavin said this figure is 200 more people than the same period last year.

“We’re short around 1000 donations in the ACT in the coming two weeks, with large gaps at both our Garran and Civic centres,” Ms Given said.

“Appointments have been down but the issue we’re seeing most is the people who aren’t showing for an appointment as this is a spot we could fill with someone else.

“There is also a higher demand for blood which is up 7 per cent across Australia.”

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During the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown in April, May and June, blood and plasma donations surged an average of 220 per day at Civic and Garran. There were about 200 donors per day between July and October, yet during November, donations have dropped to about 90 per day.

This is also being reflected nationally with Red Cross Lifeblood seeing fewer donors making appointments and 1200 donors cancelling or not turning up to their donations every day.

Ms Gavin said it was unexplainable why the average number of daily donations had dropped in November.

“We understand people are now getting a life again, but we still need them to give life too. Donating blood or plasma saves up to three lives,” she said.

To raise awareness of CIDP and the need for more plasma, Scott, who also runs Vertex rehearsal studios in Hume, is holding an outdoor family-friendly festival this Saturday to raise money for the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood and raise awareness for his condition, CIDP.

There will be 12 live bands from the Canberra area for the V2 Outdoor Festival at Hume. Details are on the Vertex Studios V2 Outdoor Festival event page on Facebook.

Sally Given with Reinaldo Bravo

Canberra Red Cross Lifeblood account manager Sally Gavin with the Civic plasma centre’s 20,000th donor Reinaldo Bravo. Photo: Supplied.

This week, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood also issued an urgent appeal for 16,000 additional people to give blood or plasma during the next two weeks.

All blood and plasma types are needed, but in particular, Lifeblood’s supplies of O+ and A+ blood have now dropped. More than 70 per cent of the population have these two blood types, meaning stocks are under real pressure.

Lifeblood executive director Cath Stone said 31,000 donations are needed every week across Australia to help patients in times of trauma, major surgery, cancer treatment, pregnancy and a host of other situations.

“As restrictions across the nation continue to ease, it’s essential that blood and plasma donations continue,” Ms Stone said.

“We saw the absolute best of the community throughout the pandemic with donors continuing to come in, however, this recent trend of decreasing appointments and increasing cancellations is concerning.”

There are currently 500,000 Australians who donate blood, but millions more who may be eligible to donate. You can check your eligibility to donate blood or plasma on the Red Cross Lifeblood website.

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