NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has declared its first-ever amber alert as blood supplies dropped to a critically low level amid staffing shortages.

Hospitals have been told to implement plans to protect their stocks, meaning non-urgent operations requiring blood could be postponed to ensure they are prioritised for patients who need them most.

A spokeswoman for NHSBT said current overall blood stocks in the NHS stand at 3.1 days but levels of O type blood have fallen to below two days.

Wendy Clark, interim chief executive of NHSBT, said: “Asking hospitals to limit their use of blood is not a step we take lightly. This is a vital measure to protect patients who need blood the most.

“Patients are our focus. I sincerely apologise to those patients who may see their surgery postponed because of this."

The current amber alert is in part due to ongoing staffing issues, with more staff needed to work at donor sessions.

NHSBT said maintaining blood stocks has been an ongoing challenge in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, mainly due to staff shortages and sickness but also due to the fact people are less likely to visit collection centres in towns and cities.

Action currently being taken to tackle the issue includes moving more staff to the front line to open up more appointments, speeding up recruitment to fill vacant posts and using agency staff, as well as retaining existing workers.

Blood can only be stored for 35 days, which means there is a constant need for donations – and a need for specific blood types.

O negative blood is the universal blood type which can be given to everyone.

It is vitally important during emergencies and when the blood type of the recipient is unknown.

Existing O negative and O positive donors are now being asked to book in at blood donor centres to give blood.

Around one in seven people have O negative blood.

Air ambulances and emergency response vehicles carry O negative supplies for emergencies.

How you can help

Donating blood is a simple process and there are donation centres at sites across the country.

People can register and find their nearest blood donation centre by visiting blood.co.uk