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They are after your blood!                                              April 2009

They are after your blood!

donating bloodGiving blood; these are everyday words in our language now; but for many of us, sadly that is all they are, just words. Despite advertising, requests and general publicity, at the moment only 4% of people regularly give blood.

It doesn’t take much to understand the relief of someone who has had an accident or is undergoing a difficult operation to know a blood transfusion will be available.

But of course this would not be possible without the thought and generosity of donors.

There is a constant need for blood donors because blood can only be used within 35 days of donation and across the country, there is rarely more than a few days worth of stock available. Currently just over two million units of blood are donated each year but more is constantly needed.

Donated blood is used across the medical field, from general surgery, in orthopaedics and for people with blood diseases to accident and emergency cases and pregnancy and childbirth.

The good news is that giving blood is quick and easy. If you are under 66 years of age, then you may well be a very suitable candidate to be a donor. People above this age can sometimes still donate but your individual situation will need to be discussed.

The first thing is to look at the website of the National Blood Service ( ). They have lots of questions and answers on the site and also give details of the 20,000 blood donating sessions a year they hold across the country - you can stipulate a preferred date and time. That makes it very easy.

When you first agree to give blood, you will be given some easy to understand information about donating blood and also asked to fill in a detailed health-check form. This will request your name, address and age plus a little about your lifestyle, your medical and travel history and also any medication you are taking.

It is important to let the centre know of any illness you have had or medication you are taken, because there are some people whose blood isn’t ideal for donation purposes. This includes people who have had hepatitis or jaundice, when you need to wait a year before giving blood, and people who have had acupuncture, when you need to wait for six months before donating blood (unless the acupuncture was done at an NHS facility). If you regularly take aspirin, you can still donate blood but it is important to let the centre know. Generally it is a good idea to drink lots of liquid before and after you donate.

After everything has been checked and a few questions asked, you will be told whether you can donate or not. If you are suitable as a donor, then you sign a consent form. This all sounds a bit arduous but actually it is all very quick and easy.

Your haemoglobin levels will then be checked, just a small prick on your finger, to confirm donating blood will not make you anaemic. Then you are all ready to help.

You lie down on a bed and a cuff, similar to a blood pressure cuff, is wrapped around your arm and inflated. This will slightly lift a vein in your arm. Then a sterile pad is wiped over the vein and a needle inserted and taped into place – this is usually totally painless although some say they feel a very small prick.

You don’t need to watch the process at all, your blood is gradually drawn from your vein into a bag below the bed, so you don’t have to see it, and usually just under a pint of blood is taken. The bag is filled with an anticoagulant that stops it from clotting.

The whole process will take around 10 minutes, then the needle is withdrawn and a sterile gauze is placed on your arm. Pressure needs to be applied to this for around two minutes to stop any bleeding, and then that is that.

You can have a short rest and will be offered tea and biscuits and you should be free to leave within the hour. You can give blood up to three times a year – that is just three hours of your time to make a real difference to other people’s lives.

The blood you have donated won’t necessarily be used by your local hospital. It will be stored in a laboratory where it is tested to make sure it is clear of aspects such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. Then it is often separated into different components. That way your blood will often be used to help a number of patients.

If you might be interested, there is an excellent video to watch which explains the whole process quickly and clearly – visit

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