As the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service arrives in Derry tomorrow for donation sessions, an urgent appeal is made for new donors to come forward

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS)  is coming to Derry for donation sessions this week. Derry News reporter Marianne Flood spoke to the organisation's Supply Chain Manager Matt Gillespie about the changes Covid-19 has brought to this vital service.

As the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service arrives in Derry tomorrow for donation sessions, an urgent appeal is made for new donors to come forward

During the height of lockdown both supply and demand for blood dropped by 30%, but as life slowly returns to normal demand is rising once again.

"This was similar to what  has been seen in other countries and was due to a decrease in non-essential surgeries and routine procedures in the hospital setting," said Matt Gillespie.

"Patients who are being treated for Covid-19 infection do not normally require blood, however they may require plasma which is one of the products we obtain from blood donations.

"While the focus has been on these Covid-19 patients a lot of equally important work continued throughout the pandemic.

"Blood was still required for many of the most critically ill patients in our healthcare system.

"Mothers giving birth, patients post cancer treatment,  emergency surgery and babies in ICU all still required blood and this will continue.

"As we come out of lock down and move to some sort of normality the demand from hospital trusts has increased to about 90% of normal. Donations have also increased but we would like to encourage more donors to come along to a session in their area.

"The service is constantly looking for new donors to meet demand.

"We rely very much on our regular donors some of whom donate 3 or 4 times a year, year after year," said Mr Gillespie.

"But we also need new donors and require about 6,000 new donors to sign up every year"

"Blood is very different to any other medicine that you can just get off the shelf.

"It requires someone to give up one and half to two hours of their time to turn up at a  town hall or church hall and give their blood."

Around 800 units of Blood and 160 units of platelets are required by the NIBTS every week to support the five hospital trusts and with a shelf life of just 35 days constant blood donation sessions are needed to meet the demand.

"When a patient receives blood they are getting something that was donated in  the last one to two weeks which I always find amazing," said Mr Gillespie.

The NIBTS continued to hold blood donation sessions across the North throughout lockdown.

"Thankfully our donors continued to come out to sessions and donate even when public anxiety was at its highest in March and April," Mr Gillespie recalled.

"Even when things were at the very worst they were still coming which is a real testament to their commitment.

"I'm always blown away by our donors- we have people that come once a month to donate platelets.

"They are giving up an hour and a half or two hours to help out a stranger.

"Thankfully despite all the changes, we have been able to meet demand throughout the pandemic and stocks of blood and platelets are currently adequate.

"This has been achieved through the combined efforts of the staff here in NIBTS and the generosity and commitment of our donors, who continue to come and donate at these difficult times."

Mr Gillespie said the North West  have a strong history of  support for  the service.

"The people of Derry have always been generous donors and we hold about 15 donation sessions a year in the Derry area."

Like all other parts of life, donation sessions have changed since the coronavirus outbreak, but Mr Gillespie insists coming to donate is safe.

"Covid-19 has meant a lot of changes for NIBTS," he stressed.

"The health and wellbeing of our staff and donors is a priority and we have made a lot of changes to how we collect blood to ensure the process is as safe as possible.

"All donations are now via appointment.

"We triage all donors on arrival for covid-19 symptoms, we have increased cleaning, increased use of PPE and apply social distancing rules at all donation sessions.

"There is no evidence that covid-19 can be transmitted through a blood transfusion so both giving blood and receiving a blood transfusion remain safe processes"

If another lockdown happens blood donations will continue to take place and travel to them will be classed as essential travel.
And whilst donors are encouraged to wear a mask, it is not compulsory and there are even some circumstances where they may be asked to remove it.

"If a donor feels faint after a donation this will usually happen after the actual donation has taken place.

"Surprisingly, some of the signs someone might faint are if they start yawning or if their lips change colour.

"So if we think someone is becoming unwell we may ask them to remove their mask to monitor this."

NIBTS is currently involved in a nationwide clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of this plasma called 'convalescent plasma' which is taken from donors who have recovered from Covid-19.

"The plasma component of blood from donors who have had covid-19 contains antibodies that fight against the virus," Mr Gillespie explained.

"There has been some evidence to suggest that this may be useful in the fight against Covid-19.

"If blood is collected from a person who has had Covid-19 the plasma component of the blood will contain these antibodies.

"If this plasma is then transfused to a patient who currently has Covid-19 these antibodies can help that patient fight against the virus.

"This is not same as developing your own antibodies however this approach has been used successfully with other viral illnesses and there has some evidence to suggest it may prove useful in the fight against Covid-19."

NIBTS is holding donation sessions in the Derry's City Hotel from Wednesday September 9 until Friday September 11.

Donation is by appointment only.

To become a donor give the NIBTS a free call on 08085 534 666 or  log on to their web site to find out more.

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