Heather Large: Why I recommend donating blood if you can

After months of waiting I’ve finally been able to resume giving blood and it felt good to be doing something to help.

Donor sessions have lots of Covid-19 safety procedures in place
Donor sessions have lots of Covid-19 safety procedures in place

Despite a few Covid-related changes and the addition of a face mask, it wasn’t really any different to a donor session eight months ago.

I shouldn’t really complain about having to wait because it was due to the shortage of available appointments. It’s good news if all the slots have been taken as it will keep stocks levels up.

But I was really keen to do my bit so I was delighted to secure appointment at a local community centre.

At the start of lockdown there was a 15 per cent dip in the number of donations.

NHS Blood and Transplant believed it could have been due to donors are feeling unsure about safety and whether sessions were still going ahead.

While many of the existing donors may have needed to shield because of living with vulnerable or elderly family members.

This made me more determined to donate at the next available session but it took a while to get a appointment.

I realise that giving blood isn’t for everyone and not everyone is able to give blood even if they want to.

But I’ve always found it a pleasant experience and it’s nice to know I’m doing something that could save someone’s life.

I suppose we all hope that if we are ever in a situation where we urgently need a blood transfusion, that the hospital has a stock of the type that will be a fit for us.

I’ve been giving blood on and off since I was in sixth form. We had a school assembly where a member of staff from NHS Blood and Transplant explained why having a regular supply of all blood types was important to ensure the right blood is available to everyone who needs it.

Their words stuck in my mind afterwards and as my dad had recently given blood for the first time at his workplace, I decided to go along with him to the next session at our local leisure centre.

From then I continued to donate including when I was away university. Unfortunately, there were a couple of times my haemoglobin levels were too low to donate but thankfully this was only a temporary situation and easily resolved.

Over the years I’ve learned to recognise when I’m feeling a bit run down and it might not be the best time to attend a session.

The donation process is really quite straightforward and the staff looking after donors are always so friendly and cheerful. The radio is usually playing in the background and it’s quite relaxing to be lying on the bed and watching the activity going on around me.

I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of needles, but the slight uncomfortable feeling lasts only a couple of seconds and I find the trick is not to watch.

It usually takes about 10 minutes to complete the donation, although this time can be less for some people.

At the recent session I attended there were many extra safety measures in place such as social distancing. Only cold drinks are being served alongside the usual snacks to encourage people not to linger for too long afterwards.

I felt perfectly safe and apart from taking care to keep my distance from others and struggling to drink a cup of water because I forgot I was wearing a face mask, it seemed very much like a pre-Covid donation session.

A few days ago I received a text letting me know that my donation of A negative blood had been issued to St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey in Surrey.

This is part of a new service by NHS Blood and Transplant allowing donors to track their blood. In the future to provide its 820,000 donors with a map showing every hospital where their blood has been used.

I was really chuffed to receive the message because I’ve often walked out of a donor session and wondered where my pint would end up and who it might help.

It will be another 16 weeks before I can give blood again - it’s 16 weeks for a woman and 12 weeks for a man – but I’ve already made an appointment to ensure I’m ready to help as soon as I can.

I would recommend giving blood but I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I would say to anyone who is considering it to give it a go.

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