Could we ever run out of blood?

Blood bags There is tremendous pressure on blood supplies

Urgent appeals for blood donors seem to be a regular event - certainly at this time of year. So what triggers an appeal and is it feasible that we could ever run out of blood?

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), which runs the service in England and north Wales, put out an urgent appeal for O negative donors last week. It currently has just 3.2 days of O neg blood, while the Welsh Blood Service has four days and the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service has 6.1 days.

People who are O neg are so-called "universal donors" as their blood can be given to patients will different blood groups.

Blood donations are used for a wide range of conditions including anaemia, leukaemia, during surgery and following organ transplant.

The last urgent appeal was in the run-up to the Olympics, when there were concerns that the national focus on a summer of sporting events combined with a large influx of visitors, might mean a shortage of blood.

The appeal was a success with O neg stocks reaching seven days, and other targets for donation being met.

Donor numbers

  • A unit of blood is 470mls - just under a pint
  • Each donation can help up to three people
  • Only 4% of those eligible donate
  • Men can donate every 12 weeks, women every 16 weeks

Jon Latham, from NHSBT, says very careful consideration is given before making an urgent appeal for donors: "As soon as we make an appeal, donors respond, but we have to be careful not to do them too often. That's why I have absolute confidence that we would never run out of blood."

Every year 225,000 new donors are needed just to replace those who drop off the register. So while urgent appeals are there to deal with sudden dips in donation, there is a constant quest to recruit volunteers.

One worrying trend is the 20% drop in the number of young people giving blood over the past decade. Last year there was a 50% drop in 17-18 years olds registering compared to 2011.

Jon Latham says the Olympics seemed to have a "distracting effect" on donors aged 17-18 with a marked decline during and after the Games.

Mr Latham said a number of new approaches were being tried to appeal to younger donors: "We do a lot with social media and now have a smartphone app which allows people to search for donor sessions."

Two months ago NHSBT launched an appeal for 100,000 new donors in 100 days, with young actors from the Hollyoaks television soap fronting the campaign.

A major innovation in 2013 will be the launch of an online portal which, for the first time, will allow donors to book and change appointments and access personalised information. NHSBT hope this self-service approach will appeal particularly to younger donors.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I used to donate on a regular basis, anything for a free biscuit.

    But donating was made more and more difficult as they moved to you needing an appointment to be seen. Rather than nipping out quickly in a lull or taking your dinner break early or late.

    Until I decided that if they were that unkeen to have my blood I might as well keep it where I knew it was wanted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I used to donate regularly, but now whenever I try to make an appointment for somewhere convenient to me I can't. As a female with slightly irregular periods I can't know months in advance when I will be fit to donate again. If you turn up without an appointment you get turned away as happened twice in the run up to the olympics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Yes, we can run out of blood and it's quite worrying, especially if you have a rare blood group. I'm AB- which is quite rare so I give blood 6 times per year at my doctors request. Not just for my own benefit, should I need it, but knowing that you may have helped someone survive is a good feeling. We should all give blood, and we should do it freely

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "Launching an appeal" in accordance with this article seems to work. But I wonder how direct community involvement might make it better e.g. take the drive into educational institutions where peer pressure can assist, take the drive into multiplex theatres where donors would get free tickets; in short, take the drive to where people are & I believe the convenience might help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    There might not be shortage of donors if payments were made (though research shows that rewards actually put altristic donors off) but it would greatly increase the risk of people who should not be giving blood (for their own or the recipients' sake) lying because they are desperate for money. Would you want blood from an injecting drug user?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Sources Blood...

    See today's Steve Bell cartoon strip in the Guardian.

    It has IDS sucking the blood out of the poor - just the 8 pints!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    When I started donating (early 1980s) it was easy - community centres, workplaces, colleges were visited frequently with drop-in sessions advertised by big banners, you just popped in, gave blood, had your squash & biscuits, done. Now it's all appointments and far harder to access...

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I'll give the blood banks people a ring - but I fear they still won't let me give blood, courtesy of a long term medical condition.

    Such a shame so many like me who'd give gladly can't for safety reasons, yet so many whose health is good enogh to donate never even consider it.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I had to stop donating on age grounds yet there was never a problem with my blood, I just got 'too old'. There are increasing restrictions on who can give blood and I am amazed that so many still do in these days of looser life styles. Some ethnic groups accept blood but do not appear at donor sessions & some would be donors are rejected for taking holidays in exotic places - like the USA!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Many more people would willingly donate if it was more convenient. Everyone wants to help but the process for donating needs to be simplified. Insisting on appointments puts people off as well as all the junk mail the NHSBT service sends to donors which much be costly as well as bad for the environment.
    The donor app sounds like a good idea. I hope it will show convenient times & places to donate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I am sure that if there were payments for blood then there would be no shortage. Failing that the case needs to be made why should people donate.



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