Blood donation (giving blood) 

Introduction 

Blood donation: Rudolph's story

Rudolph Isaacs has donated 41 pints of blood in 17 years. He explains why giving blood is important and how it is an easy way to help others.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Blood donation involves collecting blood from a donor so it can be used to treat someone else.

Blood donations are an essential part of our healthcare system. If we did not have volunteers giving blood, many medical procedures we take for granted could not take place.

Doctors and surgeons rely on blood donations to carry out life-saving and life-enhancing treatments every day.

How can I donate blood?

Thousands of blood donation sessions are held each year by NHS Blood and Transplant, so it is usually possible to attend one convenient for you.

You will need to answer some questions about your health and have a quick blood test before you can donate blood. This is done to ensure there is no danger to yourself or someone else.

During a blood donation, a needle is used to collect 470ml (just under one pint) of your blood.

You will need to rest for a short while after a donation and refreshments will be offered to stop you feeling faint or dizzy.

It is usually recommended that men allow 12 weeks and women 16 weeks between donations.

Read more about how blood donations are performed.

How is donated blood used?

In most cases, your blood will be separated into its component parts so it can be used to treat a variety of conditions. These components are:

  • red blood cells used to treat some types of anaemia and replace blood lost as the result of an accident
  • platelets used to treat problems with bone marrow, such as leukaemia and people with blood clotting disorders
  • plasma used to treat conditions where abnormal clotting causes bleeding, such as liver disease, and where large volumes of blood have been lost

Donated blood may also be used to improve the life of someone with a terminal illness.

Read more about how blood donations are used.

Other types of blood donation

As well as normal blood donation, there are other types of donation that can be used to treat other conditions, such as cord blood or platelet donation.

Cord blood donation

Cord blood from the placenta and umbilical cord can be donated after a baby has been born. However, a decision must be made before the birth.

Cord blood, which is rich in stem cells, can be used to treat a number of conditions, such as leukaemia.

Read more about cord blood donation.

Platelet donation

If you have a high platelet count in your blood, you may be able to directly donate platelets. The process is similar to giving blood normally, but often takes a bit longer.

Read more about platelet donation.

Who can donate blood?

Most people between the ages of 17 and 65 can donate blood, although you must be in good general health.

To reduce the risk to recipients of donated blood, there are rules about who can and cannot donate blood.

For example, people who have ever had HIV,syphilis or hepatitis C can never donate blood.

However, some more common things, such as having a recent piercing or taking certain medication, may also mean you cannot donate blood.

Read more about who can donate blood.

More blood donors are needed

Although most people are able to give blood, only about 4% of the population donate regularly.

In England, around 8,000 blood transfusions are carried out every day. Therefore, the need for blood donations remains high.

As blood can only be safely stored for a relatively short time, hospital blood stocks need to be continuously refreshed. For example, red blood cells can only be stored for 35 days and platelets (the part of the blood that helps prevent excessive bleeding) can only be stored for seven days.

In particular, blood donations are needed from black and Asian people because the current levels of black and Asian donors are very low. Certain ethnic groups often require certain blood types, so having a range of donations from a wide range of ethnic groups is a more effective way of meeting the potential demand for blood.

Find out more about the current blood stocksfrom NHS Blood and Transplant.

NHS Blood and Transplant

In England and parts of Wales, the blood donation process is overseen by NHS Blood and Transplant. This service relies on voluntary donations from the general public to keep the service running. Donating blood is a relatively quick procedure (it usually takes less than an hour) and is virtually painless.

The NHS Blood and Transplant website provides more information about how you can volunteer to give blood.

You can also book an appointment to donate blood near to where you live or work.

Page last reviewed: 05/10/2012

Next review due: 05/10/2014

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Comments

The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

huck said on 30 August 2014

Due to my job I usually just 'pop-in' where ever I am working.
Over the past year I have noticed a serious decline in morale of the staff. It is almost impossible to be seen without at least an hour wait as, I am told, too many donors are called in by telephone for the teams to cope with. Most teams are under-staffed and looking at the average ages of the ladies, I find it amazing that they manage to lug all the equipment and beds around each day that they do.
They put on a cheery face but when you talk to them they all say that they are being pressured by management. Tea breaks have been stopped, lunch is just 20 minute - if they are lucky - and god help you if you get ill. I was told that the staff had to make their own way home - after being taken to the venue in a mini-bus from blood service base, where they had left their cars! No help, no taxi - just get on with it.
A lot of these ladies love their work and it appears that they are being loaded up with work and bad employment practices to make them leave of their own accord before the NHS announces redundancies and has to pay out compensation to thousands of ladies.
As I said, I visit many teams and they all have similar tales.
CheshireCheese - dont blame the staff. They have no control. A call centre phones around donors in the area and pleads with them to donate. They turn up but due to low staffing levels etc the teams cannot manage the numbers. Managers will not turn anyone away causing staff more distress - usually from irate donors - and from donors who volunteer but are turned away, probably never to be seen again.
A sign of the times: better surgery, less blood needed. But what to do with the donors and staff?

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CheshireCheese said on 03 February 2014

I have been giving blood for many years and am a Bronze donor. Recently i have been appalled and disgusted at how impossible it is to give a blood donation.

It's been 1 year since i managed to successfully give blood! That is no joke.. i have attempted walk-in centres and and tried sign-up to get an advance appointment when they come to my area. on 5 separate occasions i have been turned away from the main donor centre in Manchester. You try and book an advance appointment, select your date and time and days later you get an email you have been unsuccessful in getting the appointment!

There is a fundamental problem with the system so the NHS cannot cry they have a shortage of blood as donors are having immense problems giving blood at anytime let alone lunchtimes or out of hours!

In the end i have given up when the Give Blood team visited my area and turned me away saying i didn't have an appointment, even though the information clearly states that you don't need one?! The staff and rude and inconsiderate and quite simply don't want to help or work! There is no effort on the part of the staff to take your donation at any point..

all the staff do is lay blame to being short-staffed.. it's shocking that donors have to face this kind of experience.

What's worse if that you make complaints and they send you an apology but to nothing about fixing the system. All i get is communications telling me how they need blood and how i should contact my local donor centre and give blood..

well i have done that and they can't even be bothered to pick up the phone.. to add insult to injury they tell me the next available appointment is some 6 months away!

No Thanks, I'm done with trying!

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Vulpes said on 11 November 2013

I used to be registered on something called the interval study, where people are tested with various time spans to see how often someone can safely donate, in order to increase blood supply by potentially more frequent donations. I have only donated three times, but want to donate more. I live in the Liverpool area.

But, I have no idea how people can donate blood more frequently if every time I try to make an appt they are fully booked. I am no longer registered on the interval study because I was consistently put off donating - being told that I can only donate at specific donation centres (one which incurred travel costs and is not local to where I live/work), being told at this donation centre that they do not have any appts and being told that they cannot book appts online through this study. I asked to withdraw via email, they responded that I have to complete a form with 'No Contact or Further use'. They did not send me this form, until I specifically requested it, as they were reluctant for me to no longer participate.

But even since requesting to sign out of the interval study, I still find it nigh-on-impossible to find an appt anywhere. I work locally to a church which has its next blood donation session on in 10 days, but is already fully booked. Their next session is not until another 4 months. I have requested an appt at another church early next month local to where I live, and they have not acknowledged the request. Each time I pass a donation centre, I pop in to see if they have space for a donation and they tell me that they are fully booked.

So please don't moan that only 4% of the population donate regularly!

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velveire said on 25 April 2012

I'm sure the yuk factor deters some people from giving blood. I am unable to give blood for donation because I am on long-term medication, but I have given a sample from my arm to Biobank, and hardly felt a thing.

However, I have also had samples taken by a phlebotomist at my GP's surgery, and in hospital, which have been slightly more painful.

I'm sure that medical staff get more skilled with practice, and I would imagine that blood transfusion staff would be very skilled at taking blood virtually painlessly.

I have also had samples taken from the side of my thumb, and I have to say that this is more acceptable than from a finger tip.

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Gentle Knight said on 16 June 2011

I have to say that the NHS can't be all that desperate for blood. Their policies show they must have way more than enough.

In Canada I gave blood every three months. Then I was enrolled in a programme that allowed the Blood Donation Service to take a certain part of my blood every six weeks.

I came to England and the NHS firstly only take anyone's blood every six months, then they flatly refused to take my blood at all. That's because I have diabetes. I had diabetes in Canada as well. It made no difference when donating in Canada.

Now I'm sure the blood of Canadians is not that different to the blood of Brits, so the only conclusion I can come to is the obviously the NHS are overstocked with blood. As such how can I possible believe their calls for more donors? It strikes me it's a hoax. They are crying wolf!

That's mho anyway.

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gunmogu said on 31 March 2011

I am an office worker in Sydenham Road/Croydon/Surrey.

The area is one of the biggest office building area including home office.

Occasionally, NHS blood donation lorry comes here.

Most 9-5 office worker take lunch between 12-2 PM.
And also, the NHS nurses lunch time is similarly 12-2.

The board says / We close during lunchtime
/

This discourages people willing to sacrifice their lunch break to donate blood.

If an incentive can be given to nurses working for blood donation, it wouldn't be happen.

This is problem of public sector workers.

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