3000 new blood donors are needed in Scotland

There surely can be no better gift than saving someone’s life – and we all have it in us.

By Julie Currie
Friday, 28th August 2020, 4:45 pm
In the bank...but blood only has a shelf life of 35 days so there’s a constant need to restock to meet demand.
In the bank...but blood only has a shelf life of 35 days so there’s a constant need to restock to meet demand.

Every time you donate a pint of blood, it has the potential to save, or improve, at least three people’s lives.

During lockdown, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) saw an incredible public response – with donation appointments often booked up to four weeks in advance.

As lockdown eased and people started to enjoy life again, as is also normal during the busy summer months, the numbers started to wane.

Demand increased as hospital treatments and elective surgeries resumed, just as the summer slump in donations began.

However, the need for blood actually increased as hospitals started to resume pre-lockdown treatments and elective surgeries.

And it’s for that reason the service is now calling on existing donors to continue to donate – and for new donors to come forward.

Like many other services, SNBTS has had to change the way it collects donations.

All sessions, whether in city donor centres or church halls, are now run by appointment only, bookable online or via the helpline on 0345 9090 999.

Lynne Willdigg, associate director for donor and transport services, said: “We want to say to everyone who gave blood or worked to collect blood throughout the pandemic, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you."

Appointments were introduced to support social distancing but have also helped inform in advance exactly what quantity of which blood groups are being collected each day, allowing the service to more accurately match demand.

There are other changes too – to safeguard both donors and staff.

Lynne Willdigg, associate director for donor and transport services, explained: “We’ve made big changes to the way each session is run and have done everything in our power to keep donors and staff as safe as possible.

“As well as introducing appointments, we now run a triage system at reception to determine whether donors are safe to donate.

If you've had Covid-19, the antibodies in your plasma could help to treat patients with the virus in future.

“Staff wear masks and additional role-specific PPE and we’ve socially distanced the layout of waiting and donating areas.

“Donors are now served refreshments on the bed, doing away with tea areas.

“There’s evidence that this is actually better for the donor as it replenishes their fluids quicker so this is likely to continue, after the current restrictions are lifted.

“We have introduced antibacterial hand gel stations at various stages.

“Donors can also wear a mask to attend; however they will be required to remove it at health screening and while donating to ensure we can better assess their health and monitor them more closely during donation.

“If you’ve never given blood before and don’t know your blood type, don’t let that stop you making an appointment.

“However, before you come to the session, please do check on scotblood.co.uk to make sure your session has not changed.

“We are doing our very best to keep everything to plan but Covid-19 has had a way of knocking things at the last minute.

“Please come on your own or with a friend or family member if they also have an appointment.

“And please don’t come too early – a few minutes before your appointment time is fine and means we avoid the possibility of a queue outside the session.”

The SNBTS needs 3000 new donors this year alone to keep supplies topped up and replace donors who, due to age or health conditions, have no option but to retire.

You can become a blood donor as soon as you reach your 17th birthday.

If you’re a new donor, you can start giving blood up to your 66th birthday.

If you have given blood before, even if it was some time ago, you can give blood up until your 70th birthday.

And those aged over 70 and in good health can continue to give blood, provided they have made a full donation in the last two years.

During the pandemic, the number of new donors coming forward rose to 12 per cent. However, as lockdown restrictions lifted, the numbers waned and it is now sitting at 8.3 per cent.

Lynne said: “At the start of lockdown we saw a surge in new donors attending, rising to over 12 per cent of the donations we took in March.

“We particularly saw a rise in the number of young donors coming forward who wanted to put something back into their communities.

“One of the ways they could do that was by becoming a blood donor.

“Our research shows that if we can get donors aged 17 to 30 to donate, they make it a lifetime career so we were really heartened to see so many young people.

“We want to say to everyone who gave blood or worked to collect blood throughout the pandemic, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

“Without your generosity, tenacity and courage to help others, no matter how scared you were, no matter what your personal circumstances, patients in Scotland would not have had the blood they needed.

“What each of you collectively did over the course of Covid-19 was awe-inspiring. You are heroes.

“However, on behalf of patients across the country, we’d like to make one more ask of people in Scotland.

“The number of donations has steadily decreased and over the last two months we have seen substantially below average donations from new donors.

“Each year we can forecast a dip in donations during the summer holidays. This year is unfortunately beyond any of our normal forecasting methods.

“As NHS Scotland returns to a variable, but not quite normal, service we need to be able to deliver whatever products are required.

“That’s why we’re asking both existing donors and people who have never given blood before to look up our website, find out if there’s a session and book in to give blood – if not this week, next week or the week after that.

“No matter how unpredictable the global health climate is, Scotland needs a steady flow of blood donors as there will always be patients who need your support and help.”

Regardless of the pandemic situation in your area, giving blood is classed as essential travel.

The continued fear of contracting the virus, plus the emerging fear of local lockdowns, means the service may face challenging times in the coming weeks – with increased hospital usage and fewer donations.

So there’s arguably never been a greater need for donors to come forward.

Lynne added: “We collect blood in our five cities and in communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

“We don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last but we’d ask everyone who can to consider giving blood.”

Blood can’t be stockpiled; it has a shelf life of 35 days. But stocks are updated daily on www.scotblood.co.uk so donors can give their blood when it is needed most.

To sign up or find out where your nearest donation session is call 0345 90 90 999 or visit www.scotblood.co.uk.

If you’ve had Covid-19, your blood could help future patients

People who have tested positive, or think they may have had Covid-19, are being asked to get in touch with the helpline.

All of the UK’s national blood transfusion services are working on a clinical trial which aims to help coronavirus patients in the future.

Lynne explained: “We’re asking any member of the public, aged 17 to 65, who has tested positive or thinks they may have had Covid-19 and would be willing to donate their plasma for the clinical trial to get in touch.

“We need them to call the helpline in the first instance on 0345 9090 999.

“The clinical trial is looking at how their plasma could help patients in the future.

“If someone has had Covid-19, they build up antibodies and, if they are strong enough, they could potentially be used as a treatment to help others.

“All five of the UK blood donation services are jointly working on this clinical trial.”

It’s imperative that people who want to take part contact the helpline before booking in to donate blood.

Lynne explained: “We’d ask people who are interested not to make an appointment without checking with us first.

“Everyone who takes part needs to be aged 17 to 65, have been free of all symptoms for at least 28 days and must comply with all the normal donation criteria.”

Some donors will be asked to give a blood sample for testing. Others will be invited to give a full plasma donation.

This means the service can assess more people and find high antibody donors quickly.

The process takes around 45 minutes and will separate plasma from the blood, in a process called apheresis.

Blood plasma is a yellowish liquid that makes up about half your blood volume. After a virus, your plasma contains antibodies used to help fight infection.

Convalescent plasma is the antibody-rich plasma of someone who has recovered from a virus, in this case the coronoavirus.