As I write this it is National Blood Week and it just so happens that there was a blood donation session in St John Stone Church’s Parish Centre on Tuesday. It had been a while since I’d given blood but a drive by my employer got me to go again and this is a description of my experience.
In the days before the donation session I received a lot of reminders from NHS Blood & Transplant (NHSBT) as well as a form to fill in. The form is a tick list of things I may have or may have done that would prevent me giving blood. Luckily, the only potential problem for me was a prescription drug and quick check on blood.co.uk showed that I was still OK to donate.
I had booked my session online. The session at St John Stone is very busy so it is best to book and even then to book several months beforehand.
Arriving at the session I was greeted by a very friendly nurse who took my details. I was given a booklet to read and directed to some chairs via a table holding large cups of water. The water is designed to help the process of replacing the fluid you will lose as you donate. The booklet went over the reasons why you may not be able to give and various side-effects. The latter range from a sore arm to feeling light-headed - I have to say at this point that I didn’t suffer any of them.
The chairs faced a number of screened-off tables and after a short wait (enough to read the booklet) I was called to one of them. A nurse went through the form I’d received in the post, checked that the prescription I’m taking is allowed and tested a drop of blood taken from my finger. I resisted the temptation to make Tony Hancock jokes - I’m sure they are not funny any more on the 1000th hearing! The blood test is one of several things that have improved since the last time I gave blood, the finger-prick is made by a spring-loaded device that is virtually pain free.
Having been processed you are directed to some more chairs round a table, from there you are called up one by one as a donation station & nurse become free. The donation station is a big change from the flat bed from years ago. It is now a kind of bucket chair that can be raised or lowered from a near upright position to a near horizontal position. This is so that after donation you can be raised up slowly over a minute or two lessening the risk of feeling light-headed.
Once I was comfortable another nurse came to attach me to a collection bag. First a sleeve like the ones they use for taking blood pressure was placed round my arm and inflated. There then followed a period of prodding & poking and second opinion finding as the nurse tried to determine where my veins went. This didn’t seem to be happening to anyone else around me so my arm must be a bit unusual. Anyway, the nurse attached the bag on her first attempt and the donation began. You are advised to clench muscles (the easiest thing to do is to clench your bottom muscles) to raise your blood pressure - clench for 5 seconds then relax over 10 seconds.
When the bag was full the nurse returned to remove the needle and apply a dressing. You have to keep pressure on this until you are sent to the recovery area where the free hot/cold drinks and biscuits are. The person looking after this area was also able to book me into the next Ainsdale session available.
The nurse who found my vein must have done a good job as I didn’t suffer any irritation or bruising. In fact the glue used in the dressing made more of a mark on my arm than the needle had when I removed the dressing the next morning.
I hope my description of my experience has shown that it a very easy experience to give blood and that you will consider booking a session yourself. It is something that you can do that will really save lives. For more information see blood.co.uk.
Most people between the ages of 17-65 are able to give blood. You are not allowed to if you are ill, receiving certain treatments, have recently been abroad to certain locations or have had sex with people who are deemed to be in high risk groups within the last 12 months. The latter is quite controversial but the rules are set by a government committee called the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs (SaBTO) group and not NHSBT.
Other types of Donation
Sign up to the Organ Donation Register so that doctors can use your organs once you die (with permission from your family). Make sure you share your decision with your nearest & dearest.
This is a type of blood donation. Blood is made in the bone marrow. Platelets are a constituent of blood used in the clotting process, sometimes - especially with people who suffer from cancers such as leukaemia - our bodies don’t make enough. Donating platelets is not as straightforward as donating whole blood. The healthcheck is stricter for a start (about half of people are eligible), the process takes around 90 minutes and the nearest donation centre is near Moorfields Station in Liverpool. See http://platelets.blood.co.uk/
Bone marrow/Stem Cells
Patients with Blood Cancer often require a Bone Marrow or Stem Cell transplant. Giving Stem Cells is similar to giving platelets - your blood is extracted, the required part removed and then the rest put back into your other arm. Bone Marrow donation is only carried out in 10% of donations and is done under general anaesthetic. There are a couple of registers you can join if you want to donate: If you are 16 - 30 the Anthony Nolan Trust have a register. Another register that also allows those up to 40 to join it is the British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR).
Sign up to the Organ Donation Register as you would to donate you organs to donate other tissue too.
While you are alive
Bone donation - if you have a hip replaced you can donate the bone removed to be used in bone grafts. See https://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/what-we-do/transplantation-services/tissue-and-eye-services/tissue-donation/become-a-donor/living-bone-donation-programme/
Amniotic membrane/placenta donation - if you have had a baby safely delivered via elective caesarean section you can donate amniotic membrane and placenta. See https://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/what-we-do/transplantation-services/tissue-and-eye-services/tissue-donation/become-a-donor/living-amniotic-membraneplacenta-donation-programme/
Cord Blood - another way of donating Stem Cells is to donate blood from the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby’s birth, it would be otherwise discarded. See https://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/cord-blood-bank/