Today I reached a milestone – I gave my 50th blood donation. This is something that I’m proud of, and I hope that in some way I have helped a few people get better from illness or even helped to save someone’s life.

Of course I’ll never know who I’ve helped, but that doesn’t matter. I’m not in it for recognition. The main reason I give blood is in case there’s ever a time that my family or friends ever need a blood transfusion, I know that I’ve done my bit to keep blood stocks up.

More donors please

However, this is where the issue lies: blood stocks. In a press release from June, NHS Blood and Transplant stated that in 2014/5, there were 40% fewer new blood donors than in 2004/5: 120,000 less people attended a donor session to start donating blood in the last year than they did ten years ago.

On top of this, NHS Blood and Transplant estimate that in 2015, 204,000 new volunteers need to attend a session to donate to ensure that the nation’s blood stocks continue to remain at a safe level in the future.

This same press release mentioned some of the common misconceptions about donating blood. 48% of survey respondents believed that friends and family of patients were asked to give blood when needed, and 13% believed that synthetic blood is created to meet national demand. However, 8 out of 10 people knew that unpaid volunteers are the way that blood stocks are maintained.

Reasons why you don’t and reasons why you should.

The survey referenced also asked about reasons why people don’t give blood. The top three reasons given were fear of needles, knowing it’s a good thing to do but not getting around to it, and health problems so they don’t believe they are eligible to donate – which may not be the case.

Don’t get me wrong, but I’m not a huge fan of having people stick needles in my arm, and I always look away when they put the needle in, even though I know it’s never as bad as I think it will be. They describe it as a sharp scratch, which is fair, and once the needle is in, you don’t feel a thing. You can even get a local anaesthetic if you’re worried about feeling the needle. Once you’re donating, the donor carers are around to keep an eye on you and help to put people at their ease. In my experience, they’re a friendly bunch, and the banter between them actually makes it an enjoyable experience.

For those people who never seem to get around to donating, that’s not really an excuse. If you don’t mind, I’d like to turn that argument on its head. Put yourself in the position where the person you love most in the world – a partner, a child, a parent, a friend – falls critically ill and needs a blood transfusion. Wouldn’t you want there to be sufficient blood stocks to help them get better? The NHS comes in for a lot of criticism, but this is one area that is out of their control. They can’t force people to donate blood. It’s got to be voluntary and the service relies on regular donations to ensure that they can treat patients who need it the most. So taking an hour out of your life every 3-4 months really isn’t that much of a hardship if it could make the difference between life and death for someone else.

Concern about health problems is perhaps the most genuine excuse. The blood used in transfusions has got to be safe, and all donations are screened. Donors complete a health check before their donation to ensure that they are suitable to give blood, and those that are not are thanked and sent on their way. But more often than not volunteers will be allowed to donate. So, unless you know for sure that your blood is unsuitable, why not let the professionals decide?

Tea and biscuits anyone?

As I said before, blood donation is voluntary, but there is a genuine need for new donors. If you’re nervous, take a friend along – an experienced donor or a newbie who you can rope into giving blood at the same time.

While you’re there, you can also find out about component donation. Platelets and plasma are equally vital.

I sincerely hope that this blog is able to persuade even just a handful of people to give blood donation a go, or perhaps start going again having given up for some reason. Surely the thought of saving someone’s life is a big enough incentive!

There’s one more thing that sweetens the deal – free tea and biscuits! Having had 470ml of blood taken out of you (“That’s very nearly an armful!” – Tony Hancock, 1961), the lovely people at the donor centre offer to top you up with drinks and biscuits – as much as you like!

So go on – find your nearest donation session (www.blood.co.uk) and make an appointment. Then, when you arrive, you can sit back and feel smug that you’re doing something amazing. Thank you.

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