By Alison Runham
World Blood Donor Day on 14th June is an annual event supported by the World Health Organisation. This year’s campaign celebrates blood donors and highlights the idea that blood connects us all. It seeks to raise public awareness of the need for regular blood donation, inspiring more people to become blood donors and persuading health ministers worldwide to strive for their countries to become self-sufficient in safe, voluntarily donated blood and blood products.
Why Should You Give Blood?
Have you ever considered giving blood? It’s easy to find reasons not to, but it’s also easy to assume that blood will be instantly available if we need a blood transfusion. However, in the UK alone we need over 6,000 people to give blood every day to meet our needs.
It’s not just victims of accidents and trauma that need blood transfusions. Your blood could also save the lives of patients undergoing surgery or cancer treatments, new mothers suffering haemorrhage during or after childbirth and people with blood disorders or sickle cell disease.
In 2014, 67% of donated blood in the UK was used to treat medical conditions including anaemia, cancer and blood disorders, 27% was used in surgery (including emergencies) and 6% was used to treat blood loss after childbirth.
Who Can Give Blood?
If you’re fit, healthy, aged 16 to 66 and weigh over 7 stone 12 lbs or 50kg, you should be able to start donating blood. Existing donors can carry on donating blood beyond 66. Men can give blood every 3 months and women, every 4 months.
However, there are things that can affect your eligibility to give blood, such as hazardous occupations, receiving a transplant, travel to certain countries in the last year, some cosmetic procedures and existing medical conditions. You can check your eligibility on the NHS webpage www.blood.co.uk/who-can-give-blood. Also, women under 20 who weigh under 10st 3lb (65kg) or are under 5’ 6” (168cm) tall will need to have their blood volume estimated before they can give blood, as a low blood volume may cause fainting during donation.
Registering To Be a Blood Donor
You can register online at www.blood.co.uk, by phone by calling 0300 123 2323, or at a blood donation venue during a session. You can book an appointment in advance or take a walk-in slot at one of the 23,000 blood donation sessions held at more than 3,000 venues each year. 24 of these venues are permanent blood donor centres in major towns and cities, while the others are temporary local venues such as village halls.
Preparing To Give Blood
To keep yourself as healthy and comfortable as possible when you donate blood, ensure that beforehand you:
- Eat regular meals.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Drink plenty of fluids (but avoid alcohol for 24 hours).
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Avoid exercise that’s more strenuous than your usual activities.
- Know your medical and travel history.
What Happens When You Donate Blood
If you’re nervous, take along a friend or a distraction such as a book or MP3 player. Pre-booked appointments shouldn’t take more than an hour.
Prior to your donation, you’ll be given a welcome leaflet and a drink just before you give blood, to help you stay hydrated. Your identity and the information on your donor health check form will be confirmed, and your iron levels will be checked by testing a drop of blood from your finger. A registered nurse will be on hand to discuss any concerns.
In the donation chair, a small cuff is placed on your arm to maintain a light pressure. The donation site will be cleaned with antiseptic before the needle, which is connected to a blood bag with your unique donor number, is inserted.
A special agitator scale constantly measures your donated blood and will stop your donation automatically once the 470ml mark is reached, which usually takes 5-10 minutes. You shouldn’t feel any discomfort or pain. Once the needle is removed, a sterile dressing is applied to your arm.
After Your Donation
You should keep the pressure roll on for 30 minutes and the dressing on for 6 hours. You’ll be sent to the refreshment area to relax and encouraged to have a snack and at least 2 drinks before you leave.
Once you’re home, you should avoid having a hot bath and using your donation arm for anything strenuous for the rest of the day. Most people feel fine afterwards, but if you feel dizzy, sick, hot or shaky, drink plenty of fluid and lie down until you feel better. If bleeding recurs, sit down, raise your arm and press on the area until it stops. If you become unwell (other than a cold or cold sore) within 2 weeks, or believe there’s a reason your blood shouldn’t be used, you should call 0300 123 2323.
Become a Lifesaver
Think of saving a life and you probably imagine rescuing someone from an accident or a fire. But by becoming a blood donor, you could save a life every time you donate. So why not register today?