31 May 2024

Significant risk to blood supply as Blood Service lab workers strike

5:35 am on 31 May 2024
NZ Blood Service

Photo: NZ Blood Service

Some heart and cancer patients are likely to miss out on surgery as New Zealand Blood Service laboratory workers strike on Friday.

The Blood Service has warned hospitals there is a significant risk to the blood supply for the King's Birthday weekend and beyond.

Many planned operations, including for cancer, have already been deferred because of the junior doctors' strike.

A letter to public hospitals from the Blood Service's chief medical officer Sarah Morley has revealed the extent of the added disruption, which was compounded by lab staff working to rule for about two weeks.

She warned even high priority planned surgeries should be deferred because they did not meet the definition of a "life-preserving service".

Only surgeries where there is less than a five percent risk that patients may need a transfusion should be carried out, she said.

Transfusions can be needed for many reasons, including if there is unexpected bleeding in an operation.

An internal memo to staff at the Mercy Ascot private hospitals group said the Blood Service did not consider cancers and cardiac operations in private hospitals to be a life-preserving service.

The Blood Service provides blood to Auckland City, Waikato, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin Hospitals as well as many private and smaller hospitals.

Stem cell transplants - used to treat blood cancers - should be delayed unless the process had already started, it said in a memo to hospitals..

Blood would still be provided for emergency operations, it said.

Meanwhile, Te Whatu Ora has revealed more details about disruption from last week's two-day junior doctors' strike.

It said some cancer surgeries had been deferred but those that where it was too risky to wait were still going ahead.

There were 115 theatre sessions and 30 other procedure sessions (for example, for endoscopies) called off nationally.

Each session would have several procedures scheduled, meaning hundreds of patients had operations deferred.

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