The need for blood is rising, and we need every appointment filled

As Canada’s health systems bounce back, so does the need for blood

May 28, 2020

Transfusion medicine specialist Dr. Jeannie Callum donating blood in March 

Transfusion medicine specialist Dr. Jeannie Callum donating blood in March

The need for blood is gradually increasing as hospitals resume procedures that were put on hold due to COVID-19.

Elective surgeries will gradually ramp up across the nation in the coming weeks, while urgent surgeries continue. Dr. Jeannie Callum is seeing this transition firsthand in her role as a transfusion medicine specialist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

“We’re doing more cancer surgeries, many of which need more blood than other types of surgeries, and urgent organ transplants also require a lot of blood,” says Dr. Callum.

“We’re also resuming chemotherapy for many people, and those patients often need blood transfusions. The guns and knives have come back out, and people are driving too fast because the roads are empty, so we’re also seeing an increase in traumas in the last few weeks.”

Then there are the ongoing needs — such as blood loss due to childbirth, people with conditions requiring regular transfusions, and premature babies, for whom one unit of blood gets divided into five mini-bags and sent to the neonatal unit.

Dr. Callum is a blood and stem cell donor herself, who feels especially compelled to donate because her blood type is O-negative. O-negative blood is essential in situations where there’s no time to check a patient’s blood type.

Meeting patient needs in a fast-changing world

In the context of COVID-19, Canadian Blood Services’ ability to adjust and respond to rapid changes has been challenged like never before. In the early weeks, we saw a drop in appointments, and we called for donors to continue giving blood. People across Canada responded to that call, and Canada’s blood supply stabilized.

Aiding this stabilization was that hospitals ordered about 30 per cent fewer blood products in the first three weeks of the pandemic, says Dr. Tanya Petraszko, director of medical services and hospital relations at Canadian Blood Services.

“This reduced level of demand was pretty stable for the next six weeks, but in the past several weeks hospital ordering is almost back to baseline, and above baseline for O-negative blood,” she says.

Donors asked to remain flexible

Physical distancing measures will remain in place at donor centres even as the demand for blood rises. Welcoming fewer donors at a time in our centres constrains the amount of blood Canadian Blood Services can collect, so patients in Canada will be counting on donors to book and keep their appointments.

“Our donors have shown incredible flexibility and commitment throughout COVID-19, and we need that to continue as we adjust and respond to this next phase of the recovery,” says Gord Kerr, director of donor acquisition, experience and performance at Canadian Blood Services.

“Right now, we can only welcome donors with appointments. We’re adding extra appointment opportunities to offset the loss of mobile event venues and physical distancing constraints, and we need those donors who stepped up at the beginning of the pandemic to continue their commitment to patients across Canada,” says Kerr. “We need donors to fill every single appointment available.”

To book an appointment to donate in the coming weeks and months, go to or download the GiveBlood app.

Share this story


Related stories