Chelmsford one of 14 centres to accept donations of blood plasma for medicine manufacture

A bag of plasma hangs above an apheresis machine, which separates plasma from blood

Donations of blood plasma in England for use in the manufacture of medicines have begun after the lifting of a ban which lasted for more than two decades.

Chelmsford is one of 14 centres across the country that, from today (Wednesday) volunteers will be able to donate at. The service will run initially for three months.

The donations will be used to make antibody-based medicines, called immunoglobulins, for people with rare immune diseases.

It comes after the Government lifted a ban in February which was imposed on UK donors in 1998 amid concerns about the spread of a human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said that around 17,000 people needed immunoglobin therapy in 2018/19 for a range of diseases and genetic disorders.

Donating blood plasma is similar to giving blood Credit: ITV News Meridian

These included immune disorders such as common variable immune deficiency and neurological disorders like Guillain-Barre syndrome and myasthenia gravis.

The medicines are also used to help treat cytopenia, a disorder featuring a low mature red blood cell count which can occur following radiotherapy and chemotherapy for cancer treatment, as well as dermatological disorders like Kawasaki syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.

Amid a global supply shortage due to rising demand, the UK has previously depended on imports of blood plasma from other countries - mainly the US.

Dr Gail Miflin, chief medical officer for NHSBT, said:

Plasma is made into life-saving medicines for people with rare diseases. There is a growing need for plasma for medicines and a worldwide shortage of donors.

Dr Gail Miflin, chief medical officer for NHSBT

Natalie Beeton, 26, from Hertfordshire, relies on immunoglobulin medicines to protect against serious illness due to her immunodeficiency.

Doctors believe her immune system was damaged by glandular fever and she has been receiving an antibody transfusion every six weeks at London's Royal Free Hospital since July 2019.

"It pretty much killed my immune system," she said.

Ms Beeton, an underwriter for a financial company, is going through tests for CVID.

I was at constant risk of serious infections because my immune system could not stop anything. My illness is long-term and I am going to need this medicine for the rest of my life. Donations are the juice that keeps me going.

Natalie Beeton

Donations will be taken at repurposed former convalescent centres originally created for coronavirus research. As well as Chelmsford they are in Stockton, Barnsley, Manchester, Bolton, Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampto, Reading, Bristol, Croydon, Stratford, Tottenham and Twickenham.