How you could save someone’s life

BLOOD BANK Mike Hickton, pathology laboratory manager for blood sciences at the QA Hospital
BLOOD BANK Mike Hickton, pathology laboratory manager for blood sciences at the QA Hospital

From broken bones to new beginnings

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Every day lives are saved at Queen Alexandra Hospital thanks to people who give blood.

Around 20 blood transfusions take place at the Cosham hospital each day, helping patients who have been in accidents, mothers and babies during childbirth, people who are having surgery and patients facing serious illnesses such as leukaemia.

But while the QA is managing to cope with the levels of blood stocks it receives, there are real concerns that NHS blood supplies are too low and only just covering demand.

That’s why hospital bosses are joining the NHS Blood Transplant service during National Blood Week (June 13-19) in encouraging more donors to come forward.

‘If you can give blood, please do,’ says Mike Hickton, QA’s pathology laboratory manager for blood sciences, who is in charge of blood deliveries and getting blood ready for transfusions.

‘Donations are already low and while we have enough to get by, we are always on a knife-edge.

‘It only needs a bank holiday or bad weather, where less people go to donation sessions, to have a big impact on our blood supplies. The NHS will then start rationing blood and that’s when we get problems.’

When blood stocks run low, hospitals have to have a contingency plan in place. At the QA the plan is to first stop elective surgery – planned operations. Then treatment where patients, such as cancer patients, are receiving transfusions because their body is not producing the cells itself would have to stop. And eventually, if blood stocks were so low or non-existent, the hospital would have to stop operating on patients completely.

Mike says: ‘Although I’ve not known surgery to be cancelled, it’s come so close at times. It’s a fine line we tread.

‘There have already been times when the NHS blood service has rationed certain blood types and components. We’ve had warnings about deficiencies in supplies.

‘It would take only one big incident at the QA and Southampton General Hospital, where patients at both hospitals needed a lot of blood, and we’d use a lot of the local stocks and then there would be a problem.

‘My feeling is that we will come to a time where we will run out.

‘That’s why we need more people to give blood. There will never be more donors than we need.’

There are about 34,000 blood donors in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas. But there are many more people who are eligible to give blood, but who do not. For some it is the stigma about it hurting or not being safe. For others it’s seen as too time-consuming to fit into our busy and hectic lives.

But the truth is, giving blood will take no more than an hour - and even less if you book an appointment in advance.

You simply need to answer a few health and lifestyle questions, have an iron test, then give the blood - which actually only takes about 10 minutes. After that you are asked to rest for 10 minutes or so, given a cup of tea and a biscuit, and can be on your way.

What is more, giving blood is perfectly safe and your body will replace the lost blood incredibly quickly.

And the blood you donate can literally help save a life - possibly in your local hospital.

Once you’ve made the donation, the blood is taken to storage depots where it is screened for diseases and infections (such as HIV, hepatitis B and C and syphilis) to ensure it’s safe for transfusion.

It is also broken down into the components that comprise blood - red cells, platelets and plasma.

The biggest depot and blood processing site in the south is in Bristol - where the QA’s blood is supplied from. It makes the journey to Bristol from donation sessions in this area and, once processed, is then stored at a smaller depot at the Southampton General Hospital site.

The QA then gets two deliveries a day of blood.

Once the blood gets to QA, staff in the pathology lab then cross match it with patients’ blood.

In some cases the blood is needed immediately as the patient has come in an emergency and has lost a lot of blood and needs a transfusion straight away.

In other cases, the staff at the pathology lab will be getting blood matches ready for patients who are due to come in for an operation in the near future.