Contaminated blood: How safe is NHS blood today?

The Ham&High has reported on the contaminated blood scandal that saw thousands infected with HIV and hepatitis C from high-risk blood products in the 1970s and ‘80s. Today practices have moved on and standards risen. EMMA YOULE reports

On any day, any one of us might need blood in an emergency - yet just one in 25 of us is registered to donate.

With more than 6,000 units of blood needed every day, it is the job of NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) to ensure when that critical moment comes, the stocks are available.

Over the last three weeks, the Ham&High has reported on the NHS contaminated blood scandal that affected thousands in the 1970s and 1980s - including many local people who have seen their health decimated by killer viruses or lost loved ones.

The British government continued to import blood products from America taken from high-risk donors, including prisoners and drug addicts - some of whom were paid, even after being warned they carried a risk.

One of the reasons was the UK was not self-sufficient in its own supply of blood and blood products.


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Today practices have moved on and standards have risen.

Donors in this country are not paid to give blood and donated blood and blood products are now heat-treated to kill or remove any viruses that may be present.

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Scientists also check every donation for infections.

A spokeswoman for NHSBT said: “NHS Blood and Transplant works within very strict safety guidelines which outline donor selection criteria. Following the donation, blood will undergo thorough testing, and only once it has passed as safe it will be stored in the correct manner before it is distributed to hospitals for them to use to save and improve lives.”

The World Health Organisation says the only way an adequate and reliable supply of safe blood can be assured is to maintain a stable base of voluntary and unpaid blood donors.

As of June 2014 there were 1,415 active donors in Hampstead and Kilburn, 1,958 in Holborn and St Pancras, 1,987 in Hornsey and Wood Green, and 1,878 in Finchley and Golders Green.

Amit Ghelani, 29, has first hand experience of their vital importance.

He has the blood disorder beta thalassemia major and needs transfusions every three weeks.

“Without blood transfusions, it would be game over for me,” he said. “I’ve never taken the blood I receive for granted.

“I’ve never turned up and there’s been no blood for me - but there’s always a concern.”

Demand from hospitals has fallen, with figures showing England and Wales asked for 1.7million units of blood during 2013-14 - 125,000 fewer than two years earlier.

But there were also 40 per cent (120,000) fewer new blood donors last year compared to a decade ago.

Sheryl Sanderson is a senior sister with NHSBT and worked in A&E for 15 years, where she saw blood transfusions save lives.

“You literally see somebody who is almost transparent come in and transfuse them and it’s like changing the battery in a person, it’s life saving, it really is,” she said.

Donating blood takes about an hour on average and most people aged 17 to 65 will be eligible.

Each person donates a unit of blood and many donors return time and again.

“A lot of people have personal stories as to why they donate, or reasons within their families,” said Ms Sanderson.

“When you talk to donors they say they get that buzz from doing something worthwhile.”

She encouraged new donors to sign up saying: “Where else can you take an hour to save a life? Volunteer donors really are the best people in the world.”

Will you be giving blood to save a life? Write, including full contact details, to letters@hamhigh.co.uk

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