Blood donation

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2018 National Black Members' Conference
20 September 2017

The National Health Service (NHS) Blood donation and Transplant reported that Black people make up just 2.7 percent of active blood donors, despite representing 10.4 percent of England’s population.

Blood donation is required from all communities and ethnic backgrounds to meet the needs of all patients in England and North Wales now and in the years to come. Donations are vital to ensuring patients always get the treatment they need and some blood groups such as B Rh positive and O Rh positive are more prevalent among Black donors. Black donors are specifically needed right now because:

• some patients who receive frequent blood transfusions need blood to be closely matched to their own.

• a number of blood conditions, like sickle cell disease which is treated through blood transfusions, most commonly affect Black people.

• the best match typically comes from blood donors from the same ethnic background.

In the same article Jon Latham, Assistant Director of Donor Services and Marketing at NHS Blood and Transplant stated: ‘Blood donors are amazing – every time they give up some of their free time and donate, they save lives. We believe they belong to the Greatest Team in the World! While people from all communities and backgrounds do give blood, only 4 percent of our blood donors who have donated blood in the last two years are from Black communities. This is compared to Black communities representing around 14 percent of the population. We want to try and redress this balance.’

Blood’s main components are red cells, plasma and platelets. These are used to treat many different illnesses and conditions. Blood is often separated into its individual components, so patients can be given what they need, for example red blood cells or platelets. This is called blood component therapy. This means each blood donation can be used to treat different patients when it is separated.

Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which distributes oxygen to body tissues, and carries waste carbon dioxide back to the lungs. Red blood cells are used to treat all kinds of anaemia (where people have low haemoglobin levels) including:

1)as a result of rheumatoid arthritis or cancer.

2)when red cells break down in newborn babies.

3)sickle cell diseases.

Red blood cell transfusions replace the heavy blood loss that can occur in an accident, during surgery or in childbirth.

White blood cells fight infection and are part of the body’s defence system. White cell transfusions may be given to patients suffering from life-threatening infections whose normal defence mechanisms don’t seem to be responding to antibiotics.

Platelets are crucial in helping blood to clot: they do this by clumping together to stop bleeding after an injury. They can be used:

a)to treat cases of bone marrow failure.

b)following a transplant or chemotherapy treatments.

c)to treat leukaemia.

Plasma is the fluid that carries all blood cells and components. Plasma contains a large number of proteins and substances which are often important ingredients in medical procedures. Plasma includes:

i)albumin – a protein useful for treating kidney and liver disease.

ii)clotting factors – used to treat types of haemophilia and diseases where blood doesn’t clot properly.

iii)immunoglobins – these antibodies help protect against infections.

They have a short shelf life, so there is always need to top up the supply:

A)red blood cells can be stored for up to 35 days.

B)platelets can be stored for up to 7 days.

C)plasma can be stored for up to 3 years.

This National Black Members Conferences calls on the National Black Members’ Committee:

I) To use Black Action and other UNISON communications to provide information on blood donation, the importance of more Black members giving blood and busting myths and concerns around the process.

II) To survey members on their thoughts about blood and organ donation to get an accurate view of current perception and any barriers to donation.

III) To encourage members to Register to be a blood donor and give blood. Also to register as organ and bone marrow donors and to then encourage their friends, family and colleagues to do the same.