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Over 700 blood donors flock to Ardee to maintain supply at critical moment

Irish Blood Transfusion Service
Staff at the Irish Blood Transfusion Clinic in Ardee on Monday, March 30. Photo Credit: Kathy Gilroy-Barry.

Over 700 blood donations in total will be made in Ardee by Thursday evening next week, as donors from Dundalk, Ardee and Castleblayney play their part in ensuring that blood stocks for hospitals are maintained amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service have set up a semi-permanent home at Ardee Parish Centre, holding three appointment-only clinics on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week – with four more dates to follow next week. Area Manager Finbar Gethins confirmed to LouthNow.ie that the clinic received 311 donations from donors based in Dundalk this week.

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Using their new appointment-only system, the IBTS staff took donations from Dundalk-based donors this week while next week’s clinics will be open to donors from Ardee and Castleblayney. They expect 400 donations next week.

“We got a fantastic response from Dundalk this week,” Gethins said. “We had 311 people attending from Dundalk and next week between donors from Ardee and Castleblayney, we expect to get 400 over the four days. People are being absolutely fantastic.”

With positive news emerging from the Department of Health this week suggesting that social distancing measures were having an impact on the spread of coronavirus, a surge in cases is still expected which will inevitably lead to increased pressures on hospitals and put into doubt the ability of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to collect blood donations. Gethins says maintenance of supply is key in this period of uncertainty.

“For us, it’s about maintaining the blood supply. The usage of blood has stopped slightly in the hospitals as there is no elective surgeries,” he said. “But two-thirds of blood that we collect is used in cancer care and blood disorders, so those patients still need to be treated. A percentage is also used in women giving birth, so that’s another big area. That doesn’t stop.

“Over the last number of weeks, we’ve been building the blood supply level. When we collect blood, it can last for 35 days. We’ve been planning ahead for if a number of the population get sick and won’t be able to give blood. We’re trying to maintain the level.”

Staff at the Blood Clinics are having to work under the same conditions and restrictions as everyone else, so social distancing is being implemented for the 18-strong team of staff as well as donors who attend the clinic. Staff are also having to balance considerations relating to childcare and care for older relatives, such as parents.

Clinics were due to held this week at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and at Clan na Gael GF, before a decision was made to centralise the clinics at one location in Ardee. “We have a team of 18 people. Transporting 18 people, usually they all travel on a bus. With social distancing, we’ve had to hire a 50 seater bus for the last few weeks,” Gethins explained. “We also don’t know how much our staff numbers may go down by. If we’re in a fixed location, we know we can run the service no matter what. We have a truckload of equipment to set up for a Blood Clinic. In fairness to the Parish Centre, it’s a fantastic facility. We can spread out because it’s so big.

“If we were actually in Ardee and Castleblayney this week, we would have to arrive with all our equipment, set up and the pack up at the end of the evening and take everything back. Whereas now, we’re based in Ardee Parish Centre for three weeks. Everything is set up for us,” he added.

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The IBTS team, based in Ardee, are responsible for a very large area encompassing Louth, Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, North Dublin and Westmeath – as far wide as Emyvale, Ballyconnell, Mullinger and Rush. It is a considerable area to manage at the best of times. As much as planning is key, Gethins admits that he and his team are working day-to-day to ensure provision of blood for hospitals runs as smoothly as possible.

“We’re planning up until Easter week. I have an outline plan after that but we’re dealing with things on a daily basis, so see where we’re at. Everything beyond the next two weeks is up for review.”

One thing that is likely to stay the same going forward is the new appointment system, which has proved a fillip for the team in trying times. “Usually our clinics are walk-in but now we have implemented an appointment system which means we can control the amount of people that are on the clinic at any one time,” he says. It means it is smooth. The reaction of the donors over the last few days has been fantastic and I’d imagine that is something we’re going to maintain the appointment system.”

Receiving over 700 donors in seven days during the Covid-19 pandemic is impressive, but those are regular numbers according to the IBTS. “The regular donors ringing us have been most obliging,”Gethins tells LouthNow.ie.

“What we’re really looking for is regular blood donors. We assess people on the phone now before we give them an appointment and then before they come into the clinic, they are assessed again so make sure only fit and healthy people go on to the clinic.

“For a first time donor, there is an extended donor interview. That takes longer. What we are focussing on regular donors. We still welcome first time donors but we only have a limited amount of space for them. We are encouraging regular donors.

The IBTS team are still taking appointments on 041 685 9994. “Ardee is the perfect location. It’s easy to get to. Donating blood is permission to travel. People who give blood are, generally, civic minded people. They are very pro-active. When we make an appointment, we send a text message and if they are stopped at a checkpoint, they can show the Gardai.”

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