How safe is the NHS blood today? A stable base of unpaid donors is vital
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
On any day, any one of us might need blood in an emergency - yet just one in 25 of us are registered to donate.
With more than 6,000 units of blood needed every day, it’s the job of NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) to ensure when that critical moment comes, the stocks are available.
Last week the Recorder reported on the NHS contaminated blood scandal that affected thousands in the 1970s and 1980s.
One of those was East Ham resident Victor Farrugia, who died of Aids contracted from contaminated NHS blood products used to treat the blood clotting disorder haemophilia.
The British government continued to import blood products from America taken from high-risk donors, including prisoners and drug addicts, even after being warned they carried a risk.
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Today practices have moved on and standards have risen. Donated blood is now heat treated to kill or remove any viruses that may be present and scientists check every donation for a number of different infections.
But the World Health Organisation says the only way an adequate and reliable supply of safe blood can be assured is by a stable base of voluntary, unpaid blood donors.
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As of June 2014 there were 1,153 registered donors in West Ham and 887 in East Ham.
Amit Ghelani, 29, has first hand experience of their vital importance. He has the blood disorder beta thalassemia major and needs transfusions every three weeks.
“Without blood transfusions, it would be game over for me,” he said. “I’ve never taken the blood I receive for granted.
“I’ve never turned up and there’s been no blood for me, but there’s always a concern.”
Demand from hospitals has fallen, with figures showing England and Wales asked for 1.7million units of blood during 2013-14, 125,000 fewer than two years earlier. But there were also 40 per cent (120,000) fewer new blood donors last year compared to a decade ago.
Sheryl Sanderson is a senior sister with NHSBT and worked previously in A&E for 15 years, where she saw blood transfusions save lives.
“You literally see somebody who is almost transparent come in and transfuse them and it’s like changing the battery in a person,” she said. “There is no synthetic alternative.”
She encouraged new donors to sign up saying: “Where else can you take an hour to save a life?”
Will you be giving blood to help save a life? Write, giving full contact details, to firstname.lastname@example.org