Demand for a blood component vital in the treatment of cancer and diseases of the immune system is set to outstrip supply unless thousands more donors can be found, HSJ has been told.

The Department of Health is predicting transfusions of platelets, essential to making the blood clot, will increase 34 per cent by 2020-21.

Last year, analysts predicted an increase of 4 per cent for 2011-12 based on population profile. However, the actual increase was 9 per cent.

NHS Blood and Transplant’s strategic plan for 2012-17, published this week, reports the current donor base and infrastructure is capable of meeting demand over the “near term” but in the longer term capacity must expand to meet the high level of projected demand.

Chief executive Lynda Hamlyn told HSJ platelets were used to treat some of the “sickest patients” in hospital, such as those suffering from leukaemia.

“Demand is rising a lot faster than the DH predicted,” she said. “At the moment we are matching it extremely well but if it keeps rising it will be a concern for the future.”

Only about one in 10 blood donors have a high enough platelet count to become a platelet donor. They are also asked to donate more regularly – up to 12 times a year. This means there are just 13,000 platelet donors, compared with 1.4 million blood donors.

Although a platelet transfusion can be produced by combining two or three blood donations, it is far more efficient to use a machine which takes only platelets from the blood. This allows donors to donate more regularly but means they have to be able to access a permanent donor centre.

Ms Hamlyn urged hospitals not to order more stock than they needed. She expressed hope that an inventory management system due to be trialled this year would help identify where additional demand was coming from.

NHSBT is working with a number of NHS bodies on three pilots designed to improve the efficiency of stock replenishment and reduce waste.

The organisation is also tasked with achieving a 50 per cent increase in the number of organs available for transplant over the five years to 2013.

In January, National Kidney Federation chief executive Tim Statham claimed the target would not be met and blamed the government for disbanding the Organ Donation Taskforce, set up in 2006.

In 2011-12 there were around 4,100 organ transplants, an increase of 34 per cent since 2007-08.

Ms Hamlyn accepted achieving the target would be a “stretch” and said the plan was to expand the focus for locating organ donors from intensive care into other areas of hospitals.