[Special] Severe blood shortage keeps some hospitals from conducting surgeries

Kwak Sung-sun  Published 2019.12.02  13:42  Updated 2019.12.02 13:42


A thoracic surgeon at a general hospital in Seoul has one thing he worries about before surgery. He has to check whether the patient has a designated blood donor. A hospital needs the designated blood donation system to check whether the patient has a person to share blood when it suffers a blood shortage for surgery.

Usually, the Korean Red Cross’ Blood Center supplies blood for transfusions to a medical institution at the request of the institution. Blood shortages for transfusions in medical institutions occur because the Blood Center cannot provide blood stably.

The thoracic surgeon said his department could not provide surgery if the patient has no designated blood donor. Other departments at the hospital tend to call a thoracic surgeon in an emergency during operation, rather than managing the situation themselves, he said. This was because other departments could not risk a burse of a blood vessel, which would require a large amount of blood, he added.

No designated blood donor, no surgery

The thoracic surgeon said he began to notice a blood shortage about one or two months ago. As his hospital cannot receive blood for transfusions from the Blood Center, the hospital first looks for a designated blood donor to proceed with surgery, he said.

“One of the professors managing blood in the hospital talked with the Blood Center on the phone and was told that the center could not provide blood anymore. He heard that the center could not supply additional blood type A and type O at all,” the surgeon added.

The surgeon went on to say that tertiary general hospitals did not seem to be aware of the severe blood shortage in other smaller hospitals.

“I think that the government seems to be giving blood to large hospitals first, to hide that blood is in shortage,” he said.

The surgeon noted that the blood shortage could hurt urgent patient care, too.

“Even though our hospital is a general hospital, we provide severe patient surgery. Urgent patients need surgery, too. As we have a blood shortage, however, we sometimes move a patient who needs lots of blood to another hospital,” he said.

Another general hospital in Seoul is also facing a blood shortage.

“Since the Chuseok holiday, our hospital has had difficulties in getting blood. So, we’re managing our blood more tightly,” an official at the hospital said. “If we apply for two blood bags, we get only one. So, many clinicians are complaining about the blood shortage.”

The thoracic surgeon said a continued blood shortage might affect the medical delivery system negatively. Large hospitals’ dominance of patient care has become a big problem. Still, smaller hospitals’ sending patients to large ones due to the blood shortage made the problem worse, he added.

‘Korean Red Cross aware of blood shortage, finding solutions’

The Korean Red Cross’ Blood Management Headquarters said it was aware of the blood shortage at hospitals and trying to find solutions. It attributed the blood shortage to the decline of the blood donating population and the population aging.

“We are aware of the difficult situation in blood supply for medical institutions in the September-November period,” said an official at the Korean Red Cross’ Blood Management Headquarters. “With the low birth rate, the blood donating population has gradually slid, while the demand for blood is increasing due to the population aging.”

As more than 70 percent of Korean blood donors are teens and those in their 20s, the blood donation tends to go down during summer and winter vacations, exam periods, and national holidays, the official noted.

The Korean Red Cross had difficulty in supplying blood for medical institutions, particularly this year due to the expansion of malaria-restricted areas and typhoons that hit the nation several times since September, he went on to say.

Under such circumstances, the Korean Red Cross tried to distribute limited blood to medical institutions equally, considering emergencies, he added.

To resolve the blood shortage, the Korean Red Cross was running an emergency response team, holding events to encourage blood donation, and expanding the operation of blood donation centers and buses, to secure more blood donors, he said.

The Korean Red Cross has asked medical institutions to manage blood thoroughly, and it was ready to respond to their urgent blood requests immediately, he emphasized.

The Korean Red Cross was also closely working with government agencies to get as many blood donors as possible.

It also proposed the government to give higher volunteering marks for student donors, enhance blood donation education, revise rules to allow reserve forces and civil defense forces to donate blood, give higher grades for military service providers who donate blood, and mark higher grades to state-run institutions that participate in the blood donation program.

“We need a pan-government institution to manage blood for a stable blood supply, which is crucial to protect citizens’ lives. Through this, many government agencies can make the blood shortage problem selected as a task of the Presidential Committee on Ageing Society and Population Policy,” the official said.

To brace for a decline of the teenage blood donors and those in their 20s, who take up more than 73 percent of blood donors, the Korean Red Cross would create an advertisement to encourage the middle-aged and seniors to donate blood, too, he added.

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