Why the NHS is in need of new blood

An NHS Blood and Transplant of a van missing the letters A, B and O. Credit: PA Wire

The letters A, B and O are to disappear from famous landmarks across the world as part of a campaign encouraging people to become blood donors.

Signage for the home of British television and film, Bafta, Abbey Road and even Llanfairpwllgwyngyll train station in North Wales will forgo the letters as part of the campaign.

Our Health Editor Rachel Younger explains why the health service is so in need of new blood.

A few weeks ago I got a letter from NHS Blood and Transplant telling me the mobile blood collection team would no longer be visiting the small Hertfordshire village close to my home.

There were plenty of other venues listed for me to go and donate, but with a dip in the number of people becoming donors in the UK the decision left me slightly perplexed.

Not any more. Because at the heart of this week's campaign to attract new donors is the message that a new type of blood donor is what the NHS really needs right now.

And frankly, our more culturally diverse towns and cities are more likely to deliver.

This year, health officials are trying to raise particular awareness of the need for more black and Asian donors.

The campaign is aiming to raise awareness of the need for more donors. Credit: PA Wire

NHS Blood and Transplant says in 2015 just 0.64% of donors came from the black community despite it making up 3.5% of the population in England.

You might think that doesn't matter - after all, compatibility isn't based on race.

But your blood group is determined by genes you inherit from your parents, and if you need repeated transfusions or large volumes of blood then genetically similar blood can make a real difference.

Because while there are only eight main blood types - A,B,AB and O - each group either Rhesus positive or negative, some matches within those blood groups are better than others.

For example, if you have Sickle Cell disease and need regular blood transfusions, you are less likely to form antibodies if the blood you get is a closer match to your own.

Form too many antibodies and it becomes increasingly difficult to find blood that you can still be successfully transfused with.

People look up at the missing letters from Bafta. Credit: PA Wire
Llanfairpwllgwyngyll train station. Credit: PA Wire
The Giant's Causeway missing the letters A, B and O. Credit: PA Wire

Teenager Daniel Nwosu is one of 15,000 people in the UK who have the condition, which is more prevalent in black communities.

At just six years old a sickle cell crisis nearly killed him and he will need tranfusions for the rest of his life.

"I’m very grateful to all who give blood," he says. "But it is vital more people understand the need for black African and Caribbean donors, so patients can get the closely matched blood they need."

As NHSBT's Medical Director Dr Gail Miflin told me: "We are trying to get a bit smarter about it. We know we could do even better if we had a better donor demographic".

Every minute in England, three units of blood are issued to hospitals to be given to patients - some of whom will only survive because of others' donations.

So getting the right blood, in the right quantities, remains as critical as ever.