The NHS is making an urgent call for more blood donors of Black heritage in London as new figures reveal 190 donations are now needed every day to treat sickle cell, the fastest growing genetic condition in the UK.
The figure shows a huge increase in demand. Nearly 70,000 donations are now needed in London every year, the highest ever number.
Sickle cell is more prevalent in people of Black heritage, and ethnically matched blood provides the best treatment, so more Black donors are needed to meet the increasing demand.
Around 13,200 new black blood donors are now needed in London this year.
NHS Blood and Transplant is this week launching a new campaign titled ‘Not Family, But Blood’ to recruit more donors of Black heritage.
Launched to coincide with Black History Month, the campaign highlights that although the Black community is diverse, one unifying thing is the power to treat sickle cell and provide life changing blood donations.
Sickle cell causes red blood cells to form into sickle or crescent shapes and become stuck in blood vessels, causing agonising crisis episodes, and serious or even fatal long term complications including organ damage and strokes. Many patients need regular blood transfusions to stay alive.
The rising demand is driven by increasing patient numbers, as people live for longer, and greater use of complete blood transfusions – known as red cell exchanges – which improve patient outcomes.
Demand for blood to treat sickle cell has risen by 52% over the past five years and is projected to continue to rise.
Currently, NHS Blood and Transplant is only able to provide matched blood for just over half of the hospital requests – other patients need to be treated with O Negative, the universal blood type.
Being treated with O Negative rather than the correct blood type is clinically safe but could mean, long term, patients are more likely to develop antibodies. This puts them at risk of complications and makes it even harder to find blood they can receive.
There are blood donor centres in the West End, Tooting, Edgware, Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford, and mobile blood donation sessions are held in all parts of the capital.
Lanre Ogundimu from South London has sickle cell and nearly died in 2018 from a reaction to a donor’s blood.
Although the major blood groups were matched, she reacted to a minor blood group.
The shortage of ethnically matched blood increases the risk of these reactions for people who have sickle cell.
Lanre a radio producer, said: “I can’t receive blood as a standard treatment anymore.
“Well-matched blood from within the black community can be the difference between life or death.
“I was recently reminded of the fragility of living life with sickle cell, when a child I know needed an urgent blood transfusion.
“I’m here to let you know – there is no need to feel shy or squeamish or scared. There is no stigma or shame in helping others, by giving blood.
“Let’s keep educating one another and keep talking about this in our friendship groups, our parent-support groups, our schools, our places of worship and at work.”
Cherrelle Lawrence, a Senior Biomedical Scientist at NHSBT’s blood matching lab in Tooting, said: “Matched blood is vital for sickle cell patients to reduce the risk of serious complications. People from the same ethnic background are more likely to have matching blood.
“There is a rise in Black people donating blood, but we urgently need more to become regular donors. Giving blood is easy, quick and safe – and you will save and improve lives.”
Regional Director for London in the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities Professor Kevin Fenton said:
“Sickle cell disease is the fastest growing genetic disorder in the UK – mostly affecting people of Black heritage – and we urgently need more blood donors from Black communities to come forward as they are more likely to have the blood type vital to treat this disorder.
“Being able to provide high quality clinical care to sickle cell patients both saves and improves the quality of their lives and is an important step in helping tackle health inequalities.
“I urge anyone who is eligible to donate blood as this selfless act will ensure we can continue to save lives by helping those who need it most.”
Dr Rachel Kesse-Adu, consultant haematologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, the hospital which needs the most blood for sickle cell treatment in the whole country, said: “Sickle cell disease disproportionately affects people from a Black African or Black Caribbean background, and these new figures show hospitals need more blood for people with sickle cell disease than ever before.
“I urge anyone from London from these communities who is able to give blood to step forward and help treat the thousands of people living with this painful hereditary condition.”
- Become a blood donor at www.blood.co.uk
- If a local session is full, don’t worry. It’s good news because we’ve had a good response. Please book an appointment for a future date. Your blood is still needed and you will still save lives.