Donating Blood - What's involved?
I started donating blood about five years ago. I'd done it sporadically before having my children but it's now a solid feature in my calendar. If you've never given blood please consider it. Every time you donate you could be saving up to three lives. Your blood, or parts of your blood, are used to treat patients with different medical conditions, such as anaemia, cancer or blood disorders, those having surgery and to improve the quality of life for those that are terminally ill. You will always be informed of what hospital your blood has been whisked off to. Now, surely that's motivation right there!
So why do we need to donate?
Apart from knowing your blood will help others in need, there is a shortage. Donors from all backgrounds are needed so that there is blood available for all patients whenever they need it. New black heritage donors are especially needed to meet the demands of those with sickle cell who require regular transfusions. Plus young people between the ages of seventeen and thirty five are needed to ensure there is enough blood available in the future. So if you are able to do it, why wouldn't you?
How do I get started?
Please believe me when I say it's quick and easy to do. By visiting the NHS Blood and Transplant website www.blood.co.uk you can register online (You can also call 0300 123 23 23). You'll answer some basic questions to check if you are eligible, register and validate your email address. This is so that you can be contacted about your appointment and complete your personal details to set up your account. You can then book your appointment at one of the thousands of venues across England at a time convenient to you. Once booked you will receive reminders beforehand your visit. I would advise allowing forty five minutes to one hour from entering the building to leaving afterwards.
Am I eligible?
Initially you need to be:
Between 17 and 65
Generally fit and healthy
Weigh between 50 kg and 158kg
Once you attend your appointment the nurse will check you meet all other donor eligibility.
You won't be able to donate your blood if:
You have certain heart conditions
Have tested positive for HIV
Are a Hepatitis B or C carrier
Have had an organ transplant
Have had most types of cancer
Have received blood, platelets, plasma or any other blood products
Have injected non prescribed drugs including body building and injectable tanning.
There are some other medical conditions that may mean you can't donate.
Before your donation
Make sure you eat regularly and drink plenty of non alcoholic fluid. Don't do any vigorous exercise and generally try to make sure you are well rested.
What will happen during the visit?
When you arrive you'll be welcomed and given a health screening. This involves reading the donor consent information booklet, filling in a health check questionnaire, which is a simple tick box form, and meeting with a nurse privately. They will go through these questions and also test the haemoglobin levels in your blood with a simple finger prick test. This is a protein found in the red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body and gives blood its red colour. It tests your iron levels. If these are too low you might not be able to donate. During this time you'll also be encouraged to drink 500 mls of water or squash. This will help your overall wellbeing during and after your donation.
Once the nurse is happy with everything you will be taken to the donor area and settled on a reclining chair. The crook of your elbow will be examined for a suitable vein and then thoroughly cleaned ready for donation. The nurse will then start the process. It's just like having a blood test but the blood collects in a larger pouch rather than small vials and it takes a bit longer. Around five to ten minutes in total. During this time your seat is reclined and you are advised to carry out exercises to keep the blood flowing well i.e. making fists with your hands, rotating your ankles and clenching your bum cheeks! But it is a pretty relaxing process. A machine will beep to indicate you've reached your donation limit of 470ml and the nurse will disconnect you and put a dressing on your arm.
At this point you'll be given some refreshments. Quite often you'll have a choice of some retro snacks such as club biscuits along with more squash. Once you have drunk enough and the nurse is happy you'll be able to leave.
What do I need to bear in mind after my donation?
You're advised not to drink alcohol, do any vigorous exercise or have a hot bath. But to take things gently for the rest of the day. I've always felt fine after each of my donations. In the weeks that follow you will receive a text to let you know which hospital your blood has gone to. You'll also find out your blood type if you don't already know it.
Men can donate every 12 weeks, whereas for women it's16 weeks. It may be longer if you have travelled to and from certain countries outside of the UK but you can check this on the website.
So have I convinced you? If so, get yourself onto the Give Blood website (link above) and book an appointment. I'd love to know how you get on.