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How to feel special - give blood

Fergus Walsh | 17:16 UK time, Friday, 18 February 2011

It's not every morning you open a letter you that starts with these words: "This is a special message to a special person". But that's what happened to me today. It was not a rare item of fan-mail but a note of thanks from NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) sent to recent O negative donors. People who are O negative are so-called universal donors, because anyone can receive their blood.

Just before Christmas NHSBT issued an urgent appeal for O neg donors. The appalling weather had meant many people had been unable to keep appointments and some donor sessions had to be cancelled. Stocks were running low.

I did a story about the appeal which ran on the Six O'Clock News and also online on Monday 20th December which included footage of me giving blood - the things I do to get myself on TV! NHSBT said donors "responded amazingly".

Jon Latham, Assistant Director of Blood Donation told me: "In the days after your broadcast we had record numbers of O negative donors turning up at our sessions across the country. We would like to thank everyone who gave blood when the weather was bad. We rely on the generosity and commitment of all our volunteer donors to help us maintain the vital supply of blood to hospitals."

On Wednesday 21st December, 1,119 units of O-negative blood were collected, the highest number in a single day since 2000.

Stocks of blood are now back up to healthy levels, but there is a constant need for donors of all blood groups as maintaining healthy stocks is essential for people in hospital and requiring treatment. The NHS needs 7,000 voluntary donations of blood daily across England and North Wales alone.

Blood donors can donate every 16 weeks - that's three times a year. First time donors should be aged between 17-65, weighing at least 50 kg (7 stone 12lbs) and in general good health. If you've donated before, you can start again up to your 70th birthday and there is no upper age limit for donors who have donated in the last two years. To book an appointment call the Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23 or visit

So pat yourselves on the back if you gave blood. And if you want to to feel special, why not sign up to be a blood donor? 96% of the population rely on the 4% who donate. You don't get paid, but you do get a nice cup of tea, some biscuits, and the knowledge that every donation can save three lives.


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  • 1. At 6:54pm on 18 Feb 2011, helenam123 wrote:

    I have been a regular blood donor for many years - whenever I go to give blood, it strikes me that this is special place to be as everyone who is there giving blood is unselfish - there is no recompense or reward bar the feeling that one has done a good thing. Where else can people give up their time, and indeed something of themselves, for absolutely no reward - bar a cup of tea and a custard cream! That is an unusual experience these days.....

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  • 2. At 6:59pm on 18 Feb 2011, John Ellis wrote:

    Ah blood good stuff I cant give it due to medication I take but some really interesting stuff has been coming up on blood disorders recently.

    This research will lead to some very interesting medical applications some that may even cure and rebalance the body's own ability to produce good blood or in times of emergency produce extra blood.

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  • 3. At 04:19am on 19 Feb 2011, jacmak wrote:

    And Fergus, after the effect of the feature, how many pats on your back did you give yourself?

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  • 4. At 08:59am on 19 Feb 2011, aamcfarland wrote:

    I would give blood, but I'm not allowed to because I'm gay: no man who has ever had sex with another man is allowed to give blood.

    However, if I was a straight man and had sex with a woman I knew to be HIV+, I could give blood if I waited 12 months.

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  • 5. At 1:47pm on 19 Feb 2011, John Ellis wrote:

    Fergus considering the amount of genetic research and stem cell research why do we hear very little of the UK breakthroughs in these areas or does the UK have a problem with these types of research.

    Your blog description "This is my blog for discussion of medical and health issues, especially research and ethics."

    you ran the heart blogs but no mention of stem cells and the progress made that circumvents the need for surgery, Spain are growing hearts out of peoples own stem cells getting around the need for donor matches by washing out all genetic material from the donor organs.

    Or is it simply a case of research of this kind is not possible in the UK?

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  • 6. At 3:29pm on 19 Feb 2011, Megan wrote:

    I'd love to give blood but my blood is extremely reluctant to leave... they have enough trouble getting samples for test purposes. I got as far as the '10 donations' pin, but I don't think they actually got 10 pints out of me :)

    They then said, "Er, thanks but don't bother coming back."

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  • 7. At 05:09am on 20 Feb 2011, Mac_76 wrote:


    great story and just thought I might add to the debate a little. Im currently working for a charity out in Sabah Borneo part of Malaysia. They have a system of blood donorship that if you have had a blood transfusion your family or friends have a moral duty to replace that blood.

    When one of my work collegues fell ill with a servere leg infection I was only to willing to replace the lost stock and so was everyone else from family, friends and work collegues.

    Its a brilliant system and your in the the hospital anyway visiting the person who is ill so it hardly impacts on your time.

    Anyway thanks for the positive story in a bit of a cynical media world really people do care about each other we just take it for granted.

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  • 8. At 1:09pm on 20 Feb 2011, corum-populo-2010 wrote:

    "How to feel special - give blood" is the title of Fergus Walsh blog.

    Absolutely - 'give' blood should remain the overarching and firm moral and relentless philosophy in Britain's blood donation policy.

    Am blood 'B' group myself and donate twice a year, even though my veins are slow to give, and even harder to find.

    Just do it - give blood, unless you want to rely on unreliable imports?

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  • 9. At 6:16pm on 20 Feb 2011, BillinNY wrote:

    Donating blood is a wonderful thing to do.
    My parents gave blood twice a year for 40 years and my brother continues that tradition. However, since I was residing in Germany during "mad cow" I am forever prohibited.

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  • 10. At 8:04pm on 20 Feb 2011, SAH wrote:

    What would be the impact of introducing a vCJD blood screening test on the willingness of people to donate blood? Would people be more or less willing and how does this figure into public policy decision-making on preventative measures to reduce the risk of vCJD transmission through blood transfusion?

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  • 11. At 8:10pm on 20 Feb 2011, OldIron wrote:

    I'm barred for the time being (minor op), but still registered, and very happy to donate. The main problem for me is that the accessible centres are near work, and rather erratic.

    I can take a longish lunch break to make a donation, but for at least the last year or so, the blood service haven't really made an effort to keep to appointment times. On my last attempt, they were running about 45 minutes late (I hate to think how long it would have been without an appointment!) - after the first half hour, I'd run out of time and had to go back to work empty-handed (or is it full-armed?)

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  • 12. At 07:30am on 21 Feb 2011, suzwriter wrote:

    I didn't give blood for a couple of years because I assumed that the medications I took meant I wouldn't be able to. They called me to follow me up and I'm now donating regularly again, despite being on a couple of prescription drugs and OTC antihistamines.

    Being on medication doesn't always mean that you can't give blood ( - call 0300 123 23 23 to find out.

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  • 13. At 2:01pm on 22 Feb 2011, Johnb7 wrote:

    AS a gay man like a fellow contributor I too was stopped giving blood after sometime when the Blood service was told anonymously that I was gay. Sure with all the tests the blood has to go through, then if someone turned out to be HIV positive this would be high-lighted and then the person concerned could be informed. It would be one way of finding out the state of HIV in people even those who are unaware that they have it. Also Bisexual men give blood and they are not stopped from giving it so why are gay men discriminated against by the National Blood Service ?

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  • 14. At 4:22pm on 22 Feb 2011, bayanne wrote:

    I would like to give blood, but because I live in remote part of the UK the funds for sending the vans are limited, then I can't help out .... :(

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  • 15. At 08:08am on 23 Feb 2011, knarF wrote:

    I'm now too old. Formerly I lived far from any possible donation point, but when I moved, and was fit and healthy in every respect I tried to volunteer. I was refused on the grounds that I was not allowed to start age 61! Surely that is a very low threshold? Worth reviewing in my opinion.

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  • 16. At 08:38am on 23 Feb 2011, DocNightingale wrote:

    Fergus -

    Should the government be lying to the media and the population?

    They say they intend to increase the number of doctors/nurses, yet they are cutting the number of young people they are training.

    Department of Health spokesman said: "We promised to reduce NHS bureaucracy and plough this money straight back into patient care, and that is exactly what we are delivering. Since last May, there are almost 2,500 more doctors, more nurses and more midwives - and 2,000 fewer managers."

    The reality is they are making cuts of 20% in the number of nurses, midwives etc etc they are paying schools of nursing to train. These are young people who would qualify in ~4 years.

    Why are they cutting training if they intend to increase numbers of clinicians?

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  • 17. At 7:48pm on 23 Feb 2011, William Stevenson wrote:

    The National Blood Service does have some barmy rules, but I don't think excluding gay men and allowing bisexual men to donate is one of them. The question asked is whether a potential donor has ever had sex with a man- if the answer is yes, it's 'goodbye'. They have to have simple rules which are simple to administer.

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  • 18. At 8:51pm on 23 Feb 2011, sleepingspaniel wrote:

    Having received a blood transfusion I later wanted to "give back" but was told I could not because of the transfusion I had received before the cut off date. Seems a bit daft.

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  • 19. At 07:08am on 24 Feb 2011, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    I am deeply, deeply shocked at the discrimination against gay men by the National Blood Service. Leaving aside the assumptions that it makes about lifestyle, I'd like to point out to them (as they obviously don't know yet) that having sex with a woman doesn't actually prevent you from getting HIV. Hopefully someone at the NBS will find this information helpful.

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  • 20. At 4:20pm on 24 Feb 2011, Sharon wrote:

    @aamcfarland I understand where you're coming from completely. I'm a girl and my male partner is bisexual and sleeps with another man. Therefore, by default, I'm not allowed to either. I wanted to give blood last year but was told they wouldn't have me, despite everyone practising safe sex and going for regular tests.

    I think such rulings are ridiculous and discriminatory, especially as the rate of HIV in *hetero* people is rising higher and higher!

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  • 21. At 08:21am on 25 Feb 2011, TasTustic wrote:

    I've donated blood over the years because it literally saves lives and donation also binds us as a community of people who care about each other. I was content to know that donated blood was used by the NHS, the UK private health care sector and overseas visitors who fell seriously ill while visiting the UK.
    If the NHS reforms go through, within a few years most of it will be run by for-profit companies. Why would it be a good thing for UK taxpayers if shareholders (who could be anywhere in the world) were to obtain profits from a substance which is donated for UK residents?

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  • 22. At 3:08pm on 25 Feb 2011, LouSab wrote:

    I feel it is important to point out to those who believe that the blood donor service is in fact prejudice about gay individuals that this is not the case.
    You can give blood if you are gay or bisexual, but not if you have had anal sex with another man. It is simple statistics about HIV numbers in England and North Wales, and unfortunately it does seem unfair but there is a reason for doing it, as I’m sure you can appreciate not every test done on the blood will bring back a 100% accurate result every single time.
    I donated blood last week and I can not stress how polite and helpful the individuals who work at the centres are, and would love to thank them for an excellent visit!

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  • 23. At 3:14pm on 25 Feb 2011, Chris wrote:

    I completely understand the frustration with the ban on men who have sex with men giving blood. But when you look at the research to change from the current system, which a ban based on activity not because i identify as a gay man, there would be increase in risk of HIV getting into the system of 60%. Its still a small risk but its still very important. Tests are improving, but there is at a minimum 6 week period at least when HIV cant be detected by tests, and HIV is still proportionately much more dominant in the MSM community compared to the rest of society, even if new infection rates are higher in the heterosexual community. This ban is reviewed very often and has to be weighed between the benefits and risks and isnt taken lightly. I say this all as a gay man and someone who knows a little bit (only a little i grant you) about epidemiology, and we're obviously not at a stage where the potential benefits outway the risks.

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  • 24. At 8:34pm on 25 Feb 2011, tony king wrote:

    I tried to give blood but was told as I had been to Africa, I had a greater chance of having "Aids". As I'm 50 been married for nearly 20 years and have kids, don't do drugs or mess about, it did'nt make sense.

    This refusal was told in a loud voice by an old women who made sure all those sitting close by could here what was said, at least a dozen people.

    I had driven 15 miles just to receive this insult, never again.

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  • 25. At 02:38am on 26 Feb 2011, Chris wrote:

    aamcfarland is quite right - the rules make no sense.
    @Johnb7 - you are totally wrong. The blood donation service should not and cannot be used as a testing service. There is a window period (minimum of 2 weeks but sometimes a lot more) when the virus hasn't been around long enough for the body to make enough antibodies against it to be detected. Even though the rules are prejudiced and ridiculous, we should adhere to them. Instead of breaking them, we should argue for change. On a personal note, I can't see why as a gay man you would want to give your blood to a bunch of homophobes. I'm keeping mine until they accept they are prejudiced and change the rules.
    The current rules are a blanket ban on men who have ever had anal sex with a man from donating, and a woman who has (knowingly, because many will not) had sex with a man who has had sex with a man in the past 12 months. It would seem a more equal rule for a man who has had sex with a man more than 12 months ago (or 6 months, or 3 months) be allowed to donate, the same as a woman. Indeed, there is an argument to say that should be extended to cover only unprotected sex in the past however months for both men and women, whoever they have had sex with.

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  • 26. At 12:16pm on 26 Feb 2011, Mtwain2011 wrote:

    Wonderful piece of information, Ferry !

    No doubt, its always a nice feeling having done something simple, yet tremendously effective. The greater satisfaction lies in the fact that our deeds have been beneficial to our fellow-men and has saved their lives on most occasions.

    Just to add more colour to your work, several researches have proved that the benefits of donating blood is not just one sided. Its a win-win situation where both the donor and the victim is benefited. As far as my memory goes, the only thing on Earth that can be increased by giving is knowledge. May be, the benefits of blood donation comes under this category.

    To read more on the benefits offered to the members of NHS, click [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    Once again Ferry, Kudos to you for your efforts!

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  • 27. At 11:04am on 28 Feb 2011, Nicholas wrote:

    Oh dear... There is no doubt whatsoever that NBTS "marketing" is the worst of an appalingly not-fit-for-purpose bunch.
    Millions of us share Fergus' enthusiasm but the service manages to alienate us in every dimension and at every turn. They survive despite themselves...

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  • 28. At 11:49am on 05 Mar 2011, Francis Spring wrote:

    I was astonished to learn that a mere 4% of the population in the UK regularly give blood however I have to confess I am one of the many who are able to give regularly but do not. More frequent messages and reminders in the news (and perhaps online) would help and pre-arranged mobile units visiting offices would be helpful. There is also more information about blood pressure here.

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  • 29. At 1:25pm on 10 Mar 2011, FatPeace - A Promise to Heather wrote:

    25. At 02:38am on 26 Feb 2011, Chris wrote:
    On a personal note, I can't see why as a gay man you would want to give your blood to a bunch of homophobes. I'm keeping mine until they accept they are prejudiced and change the rules.

    As a former regular donor and one who abhors prejudice and the lazy reliance on stereotypes I wholeheartedly agree with this. Plenty of heterosexual men AND women contract HIV and AIDS yet can freely donate because as with everything the statisticians have decreed that the 'risk' (ie chance) of transmission is elevated. As with the car insurance issue and bans on fat people adopting children, we need to oppose this reliance on generalisations and blanket assumptions that tar everyone in a particularly group with an extremely broad brush. We're individuals and it's time the authorities recognised this even if means they have to spend longer considering things on their merits rather than imposing 'rules' to make their own lives easier.

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  • 30. At 5:30pm on 18 Mar 2011, Francis Spring wrote:

    As previously commented above there is more information about blood pressure here.

    I was disappointed to read that only 4% of adults in the UK regularly donate blood. I have to confess however I am one of the many who should give regularly but don't.

    I suppose that regualr reminders in the media would help boost thr frequency of attendance and increasing the number of mobile units visiting offices would be helpful.

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