Introduction 

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's usually possible to attend one that is 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 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 quality of life of people with a terminal illness.

Read more about how blood donations are used.

Other types of blood donation

There are other types of blood donation that can be used to treat a number of conditions.

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 66 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.

For example, people who have ever had HIV, syphilis or hepatitis C can never donate blood. Having a recent tattoo, 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, so there's a need for blood donations.

As blood can only be safely stored for a relatively short time, hospital blood stocks need to be continuously refreshed. 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 donations from a wide range of ethnic groups is a more effective way of meeting the potential demand for blood.

Find out more about current blood stocks from 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.

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

Page last reviewed: 07/10/2014

Next review due: 07/10/2016