The gift of life in just half an hour

Mine's a pint: Holly Mason, lead donor relations manager for the National Blood Service in Sheffield, oversees  the Star's Richard Marsden giving blood at the centre on Church Street     'PICTURES: SARAH WASHBOURNE
Mine's a pint: Holly Mason, lead donor relations manager for the National Blood Service in Sheffield, oversees the Star's Richard Marsden giving blood at the centre on Church Street 'PICTURES: SARAH WASHBOURNE
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THE sight of blood can make even hardmen faint.

But, honestly, you barely feel a thing – and you don’t even need to look.

I started donating blood because I needed to know my blood group for when I went to report on local troops serving in Afghanistan three years ago and have been back every three months since.

On my first visit, I felt a little uncomfortable, but was soon relaxed by the staff at Sheffield Donor Centre, on Church Street in the city centre.

There is a little pin prick made to the finger, to test the blood’s iron content, before donors go on to make the full donation, done from the comfort of specially designed chairs so people can sit reading a book, newspaper or even their iPhone.

The staff have tricks of distraction when making the finger prick and inserting the needle in the crease of your elbow.

And the entire process only takes about half an hour.

However, there is a shortage of donations, particularly from young people and ethnic minorities.

An average of 1,046 units of blood are used by South Yorkshire hospitals each week, so donations are in constant demand.

Sheffield Donor Centre collects just more than 10,000 units of blood each year, a large part of the 46,400 donations made across South Yorkshire each year.

But there has been a steep fall in donors over the last three years, from 12,391 in 2009 to just 7,594 so far this year.

Of particular concern is that registered blood donors aged 17 to 24 in South Yorkshire have almost halved in the period, from 5,239 in 2009 to 2,883 in 2012.

Every year, 225,000 new donors are needed nationally to replace existing donors who drop out of the system.

A campaign has been launched to target young people, backed by stars from TV soap Hollyoaks, including Jorgie Porter, who plays Theresa McQueen.

Holly Mason, lead donor relations manager for the National Blood Service in Sheffield, says: “We have many regulars some of whom have donated 75 or even 100 times.

“But the shortage of younger donors is a potential problem for the future, because as we lose older donors, there are fewer replacing them.

“We take donations of all types but the one that we need the most is O negative, because it can be given to everyone in an emergency situation.”

Holly says that if supplies ever run short in one area of the country due to low donations, blood is transported from elsewhere, so the service is able to ensure there is enough to go around.

“But we need more people to donate to ensure supplies are healthy in the future,” she says.

Of particular concern is lack of donations from people of ethnic minority backgrounds, who have rare blood types. Only 1 per cent of donors are black and 3 per cent Asian around the country.

“We are also in need of bone marrow and platelet donors,” Holly says.

“Sheffield’s platelet donor base is currently not sufficient to support the requirements and at present we require at least 90 more donors to be recruited.

“This figure does not sound very high, but when you consider that out of every 10 people who give a sample, only two or three will be potentially suitable.

“Additionally, the figure above is purely what our panel requires now and does not take into account attrition. Donors are returned to donating blood for various reasons, and each of these donors has to be replaced for platelet donation. “Platelet donation is a fantastically rewarding experience and can save the lives of up to three adults or 12 babies.”

A team of 14 staff are based at the Sheffield Donor Centre, which is open on weekdays and late evenings for people to come after work, collectingblood and platelet donations.

Lindsey Marsh has worked there for 37 years.

She says: “I’ve given blood and platelets and also benefited from donations because I had to have transfusions due to complications with childbirths.

“I am now meeting people giving blood who were brought here as little ones when their parents were donating.

“We try to make it a pleasant experience.

“People who give blood for the first time can be a little concerned, but we try to allay their fears.

“We even once had a team in from a radio station who were bigging themselves up, but were a little unwell at the thought of going through the deed, but it really is nothing to worry about.

“We’ve had Sheffield United players and Brendan Ingle has brought his boxers in to donate,” she says.

Donor criteria

The age criteria for first time donors is 17 to 65.

Once a person starts donating, if they donate regularly then there is no upper age limit.

Generally, if a person is in good health they are likely to be able to donate. However, anyone who is interested in being a blood donor and on medication should contact the donor helpline 0300 123 23 23 to check before attending a donor session.

The helpline can also be used to find out where local donor sessions are being held in different areas, or to book a session.

Drive to recruit more Asian donors

HELPING to address the shortage of Asian blood donors is Coun Ibrar Hussain, a member of Sheffield Council, and journalist Zeeshan Hussain, of ILM News, an English-Urdu newspaper which has offices on Abbeydale Road.

Coun Hussain, a Labour councillor for 13 years who represents Burngreave ward, has been donating for the last four years.

He is now considering signing up to giving platelets and also taking part in a trial scheme through which people agree to give blood more frequently than the normal three-month interval.

Coun Hussain, a former chairman of Sheffield Taxi Trade Association and married father of four, said: “I decided to sign up because there is such a need for donors.

“Blood is a gift from God and if you can help someone, I think you should.

“I feel so positive being able to assist someone who is in need and I would encourage anyone to give blood.”

He believes there is a lack of Asian donors because there is ‘not enough information’.

He and Zeeshan are now planning to help the blood service with a campaign to recruit more people from within the community.

Zeeshan, who has just given blood for the first time, said: “We’ll be working through our newspaper to assist the campaign.”