Tuesday, 27 March 2018

A Beginners Guide to Giving Blood in the UK

A beginners guide to giving blood in the UK, It is safe, quick and simple and could save a life

Last week I was super happy to give blood. A pint, that's all they take. My body doesn't miss it and luckily for me I've always found it a really easy and painless process. This time I was at the donation centre for 35 minutes start to finish and that blood I gave might save someones life. It's worth it, right?

This was my 23rd donation and I'm already booked in for my 24th in September. As a woman I can give blood every 16 weeks and men are able to give every 12 weeks but of course you have to do what is convenient for you and that's why I've only given 23 times since 1998. But I refuse to beat myself up that it could have been far more because that is 23 pints of blood that have made a big difference to some people and I really love the fact nowadays that I get a text after donation to tell me where my blood has gone to, it really helps me feel connected to the process.

Surely they have enough blood already?
I bet you know someone who has received blood. Most of us do whether we realise it or not. The NHS need 6,000 blood donations every day to ensure there is enough blood to meet demands within England. This means they need 200,000 new donors every year to replenish those who can no longer donate. Over half of regular donors are over 45 years old and as such more young people need to start donating to ensure there is enough blood in the future.

There is a particular need for more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to give blood so there is adequate supply of certain blood types. Especially blood from black donors that can be given to black patients with sickle cell disease.

A beginners guide to giving blood in the UK, It is safe, quick and simple and could save a life

Can I give blood?
Have you ever given before? Yes, big well done and keep with it. If not, well why not? Of course it might be that there is a really genuine reason why you can not donate such as being below the weight threshold, having certain health conditions or if you have ever injected drugs. You can check out your eligibility to give on the Blood website, it is very comprehensive.

In general, as long as you are fit and healthy, weigh over 7 stone 12lbs (50kg) and are aged between 17 and 66 (up to 70 if you have given blood before) you should be able to give blood. If you are over 70, you need to have given blood in the last two years to continue donating.

Will it be a faff?
No, there is no reason why it should be. You can easily book online and just by putting your postcode in you'll be presented with a whole list of venues close to home or work (whichever is convenient) and then there are sessions during the day and in the early evening too.

Generally you'd expect to be at the donation centre for about an hour but as I mentioned before, some people like me can get through much quicker. The appointment system makes such a difference nowadays and I never sit for ages waiting like I did fifteen years ago. 

Is it going to hurt?
The short answer, no. There is no getting away from it, they will be inserting a needle into your arm and if it you look at it, it does look pretty big. However, I promise you, the Donor Carers are experts, they are doing this all day, every day and they are very good at what they do. I think I have bruised once in my 23 donations and normally I just feel a short scratch and a moment of discomfort and it really is just a moment, then the whole time I am donating once the needle is in I feel nothing.

Will I feel ill afterwards?
Honestly I can't foresee how you'll feel. I always feel completely fine but my husband (bless him) feels quite woozy afterwards and as such doesn't give any longer. The truth is that until you try once you'll never know how you'll feel, so just give it a go.

Once you finish donating, the Donor Carer will slowly raise your chair from the reclined position to upright and you can let them know if you don't feel too great and they'll keep you reclined for a little longer. There is never any rush, their primary aim is to ensure you feel well after donation. Then once you are up, you head over to the refreshments table and have some fluids and a snack.

blood donation session in the uk

What can I expect at the donation session?
Once you have registered online you'll be sent a confirmation letter and a questionnaire. Complete this and take it with you to the session. There will be someone there to greet you and give you the mandatory information to read. You'll be directed to get some water to drink and take a seat.

Once it is your session time you'll be called over to be health screened. The Donor Carer will go over all the information in your questionnaire and prick your finger to take a small drop of blood to test your iron levels. If your health screening is straight forward and your iron levels are high enough you'll be asked to take another seat until a donation chair is available for you.

If there is anything on your health screening that concerns the Donor Carer they will refer you to the session Nurse who will double check the information. This could be as simple as you are waiting for a medical investigation or you have travelled abroad to an at risk country. I've been turned away at this stage before a session, once because I'd had a Yellow Fever vaccination and not enough time had passed and also because I was waiting for an MRI on my foot. Totally unrelated but of course they want to make sure you are in the absolute best health before they take your blood. 

Once you've been screened as healthy to give blood on that day, you'll be shown to your donor station. There is normally a chair for you to leave your bag and coat on and the big grey reclining chair/ bed that you donate on. These are really fabulous as they are on a kind of rocker and it allows the Donor Carer to lay you back/lift you up gently without any strain on them.

reclining chair for giving blood

You can choose which arm you wish to donate from, I always do my left as I am right handed. The Donor Carer will check your details again before taking any blood as they take health and security very seriously. Your arm will be thoroughly cleaned to ensure the area is sterile before they insert the needle and then once the needle is in and you are comfortable they will leave you to donate. You can just relax, I tend to read and I often see people browsing on their phones. You are recommended to clench and un-clench your buttocks and to gently cross and uncross your ankles whilst donating.  This will help ensure you feel well afterwards.

It doesn't take long and the machine is set to stop taking the blood once a pint has been taken. As well as the pint, a few vials of blood are taken too, these will be tested to ensure the blood is good quality and free of any infection or diseases. Once the bleeping starts and your donation is finished a Donor Carer will come over to remove the needle and they get you to hold some cotton wool on the puncture wound to stem any bleeding. This doesn't take long and then they put on a plaster (checking first if you have any allergies) and also an extra roll to apply pressure. The roll stays on for 1/2 hour and the plaster for 6 hours.

Once you are fully upright and confirm you are feeling well you can go over to the refreshments table and there is always a selection of hot and cold drinks, as well as crisps, biscuits, raisins and all sorts! Then as soon as you've drunk something and are feeling well you are free to leave. It really is very simple. 

Have a watch of this video of Charlieissocoollike who is a fab YouTuber (and I know his mum!) and you'll see him take the full journey of giving blood, from decision to having his biscuits afterwards!



What do I do now?
Go online and register to be a donor or call 0300 123 23 23 to register and book your appointment. It's super simple and you'll be doing something really worthwhile that can make the world of difference to another person. Why not enlist your other half or a friend to go with you, so you have company?

All the best, I'm rooting for you!  Mich x

A beginners guide to giving blood in the UK, It is safe, quick and simple and could save a life


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