Monday, 20 August 2018

The blood donor

In 1961, The Blood Donor, an episode of the comedy series Hancock was show on BBC TV. It was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and starred Tony Hancock. It was later remade for the radio which can be heard here:


I think of this because I am off to give blood this evening and can’t do it without thinking of the quote from the programme ‘A Pint! Why, that’s very nearly an armful!’ The experience Hancock would have had in the 1960s was very different from what I will have today, and early blood transfusions were extremely different still. Early blood transfusions would have been made direct from the donor to the patien. I am very pleased this is not what happens today.

'J. Roussel, blood transfusion, 1876' . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Blood banks were created in September 1946 by the Ministry of Health to meet the needs of injured civilians and service personnel. At this time, there were 270,000 donors compared to today’s 900,000 donors but National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) are always looking for new donors, especially those who are young, as around half of current donors are over 45, and from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

In the 1960s glass bottles, that look rather like milk bottles, and rubber was used to collect blood from the donor. 


'Blood transfusion bottle, capped, with associated parts, Eng' by Science Museum, London. Credit: Science Museum, London. CC BY

Glass bottles were replaced with plastic packs in 1975. Single use PVC tubes and bags are much more hygienic and help to prevent cross contamination whilst being lighter, easier to store and transport and practically unbreakable.

Additional vials of blood can be taken during the donation process so that it can be tested for a number of infections and diseases that would cause harm to the patient. In 1946 the only test carried out was for syphilis, today blood and plasma donations are tested for many potential infections, including HIV and Zika virus.

Things have changed since I started donating blood in 2000. When I first started, donors would lay down on an almost flat bed and would spend a short amount of time relaxing post donation before getting up. When you felt ready, you would sit straight up and hop off the bed to have your tea and biscuit. At this point some donors would faint and fall off the bed. The recovery position used when a patient faints is completely different from the blood donating position and NHSBT realised that this should be addressed in the new chair through design innovation.

The success of the new blood donor Chair programme for NHSBT demonstrates what is possible in the NHS with a clear vision and strong stakeholder participation. The chair is more comfortable in use, provides all round support to the body in various conditions, and is configured to conform to the new Gold Standard Clinical Pathway for Blood Donation. For efficient, safe and easy handling by staff, the chair breaks down and stacks on trolleys in sets. Renfrew Group International won the contract on a competitive basis via NHS National Innovation Centre (NIC) for the design stages and were engaged directly with NHSBT to collaboratively develop the prototypes and competitively tender for the manufacture and supply of the national requirement. The chair is made of a plastic material that is very easy to clean, lightweight to handle, and comfortable and safe to sit on. 

If you are thinking about donating but would like to know what is involved first, this film is very informative. A donation is 470ml which is just less than a pint, you won’t end up with an empty arm as Hancock expected, and the whole process is over within the hour. 

More about the benefits of using plastics in the medical and caring professsions can be seen in our up coming exhibition See through.

Louise Dennis (Assistant Curator)

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