Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

5 min read

How can you potentially save up to three lives in just 5-10 minutes? By donating blood. Every year, countries around the world celebrate the everyday lifesaver heroes who donate blood on World Blood Donor Day (WBDD). This year it’s on the 14th of June and the campaign is “Give blood, give plasma, share life, share often”.

In the UK, we’re lucky to have a highly efficient and dedicated national NHS team at UK Blood and Transplant, who work round the clock to supply blood, organs, tissues, and stem cells to hospitals around the UK. But we need over 5,000 litres of blood in the UK every day – and a constant supply of new donors.

What is Donated Blood Used For?

Donated whole blood can help patients survive after surgery, childbirth, major accidents and more. But blood can also be separated out so all the different elements can benefit other patients:

  • Red blood cells can restore levels of red blood cells, essential to carry oxygen around the body, in patients with anaemia due to cancer or other conditions.

  • Plasma can be used for burns patients, those in shock or people with severe liver disease which stops their blood clotting effectively.

  • Tiny platelets, which help prevent abnormal bleeding, can help people who have cancer or have needed organ transplant surgery

  • And white cells, which form part of your body’s defence system, could allow someone with a life-threatening infection to recover.

Around two-thirds of the blood donated in England is used to treat medical conditions including anaemia, cancer, and blood disorders. The remaining third is used in surgery and emergencies including childbirth.

Red Tree

Why is it Important to Donate Blood?

Every year in the UK, we need around 135,000 new donors to replace donations from people who cannot donate any longer.

In 2022, more than 325,000 registered to give blood – but almost 3 in 4 haven’t yet taken the next step to donate. In 2022, there was a real issue with low blood stocks, so new donors are needed more than ever. And after some issues with being able to make appointments last year, there are now plenty of slots available. The NHS is appealing to people to make 2023 the year they save lives.

You can find out more about registering to donate on the link below.

Register Online

Who Can Give Blood?

Most people can donate blood. You can give blood if you:

  • are generally fit and healthy

  • weigh between 7 stone 12 lbs and 25 stone (50-158kg)

  • are aged between 17 and 65

  • meet all the donor eligibility criteria (you can ring 0300 123 2323 to check if you can donate)

Every blood donation is valued. But at the moment the NHS particularly needs:

  • Male donors - men (who usually have higher iron levels than women) can give blood every 12 weeks and women can give blood every 16 weeks. 

  • Black donors – the demand for Ro blood (a type of Rh-positive blood) is increasing. Only about 2% of regular donors have Ro blood, but people of Black African or Black Caribbean heritage are ten times more likely to have it than someone of white heritage.

  • O negative donors - hospitals need this blood type most regularly, as it can be given to all patients (for instance in emergencies when their blood type isn’t known).

How Could My Blood Be Used?

Medical Travel Compared has created this clever guide to show the ways in which your amazing donated blood could be used.

You & Your Extraordinary Blood

What Happens to My Body After I Give Blood?

After you donate blood your body will replace the blood volume (plasma) within 48 hours. Your white cells and platelets will be back to normal within a few days. Your body makes about 2 million new red cells every second, and will completely replace them within a few weeks.

How Do I Give Blood?

Giving blood takes around an hour, with the donation itself lasting just 5-10 minutes.

It couldn’t be easier to register to donate. If you want to register by phone, you can call 0300 123 23 23.

To get started online:

  • If you have never donated in England, you can register online.

  • Once you’re registered, you can create an online account, where you can find your nearest donation centre, and book and change appointments.

  • Once you have an online account, you may want to download the NHS Give Blood app on Google Play or the Apple App store.

Tens of thousands of people are doing something amazing by registering to the growing community of blood donors, ready to save lives when the NHS needs them. Every blood donation helps to save a life.

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