Giving blood: a guide to what, where and who

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  • Ok, this might sound like a little bit of an odd Christmas present, but bear with us. Because giving the gift of blood this year might just be the best present you ever gave. After all, if the blood you donate could help to save someone’s life, then isn’t that a better gift than the latest must-have gadget or toy?

    And this is the time to do it, because November through to the New Year is typically a challenging time for blood stocks. Hospitals in England and North Wales will need almost half a million units of blood to see them through the period. But with Christmas shopping, the party season and the general festive rush, together with the extended public holidays, taking the time to donate can slip off people’s to-do list, putting pressure on blood stocks.

    In case that doesn’t have you tracking down your nearest donation session and reaching for your coat, meet Alexis – the star of a new NHS campaign – to tell you all about this year’s must-have gift.

    For something that’s so incredibly important  and vital to do, not all of us know how to even go about giving blood. So we’ve put together this simple guide telling you the basics of what you need to know – from what and where, to who.

    Where can I give blood?

    There are two types of places you can give blood: at permanent blood centres, and at regular local blood donations sessions held at places like community centres, churches, sports clubs and so on. While the blood centres remain the same all year round, the blood sessions can be easier to get to. Just type your location into the search bar and see where your nearest blood donation location is.
    You can turn up at any blood donation location and the team will try to see you as quickly as possible, but to avoid disappointment you can register to give blood first.  
    Did you know? With the donation sessions, you can even search by date to see when and where your next session is.

    What’s involved in giving blood?

    If you’ve never given blood then the most important thing to remember is not to worry! A highly-skilled blood collection team and an NHS registered nurse will be on hand to take great care of you.
    You’ll be welcomed in and asked to complete a few simple questions. From there you’ll have your iron levels tested by a simple finger prick test; this is to make sure you have enough iron in your blood to donate. You’ll then be called to a donation bed where you can sit back and relax to give your donation using new, sterile, high-tech equipment. In a short period of time your donation will be finished and you’ll have a cup of tea and a biscuit safe in the knowledge you have just helped to save or improve someone’s life!
    Did you know? If you’re still feeling a little unsure about the process, you can take a virtual tour of what to expect when you give blood. 

    What will they ask me?

    Once arriving to give blood, you’ll be asked to read some leaflets and complete a few simple questions about your medical history and lifestyle – just to make sure it is safe for you to donate, and safe for someone to receive your blood. If anything is of question to you or the team, the nurse will be on hand to talk to you further, all in the strictest of confidence.
    Did you know? You may be asked to do applied muscle tension exercises while you give blood. This is just to maintain blood pressure and promote wellbeing during and after your donation.

    How can I prepare to give blood?

    There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself before giving blood:
    • Eat regular meals to avoid feeling lightheaded
    • A good night’s sleep will boost your wellbeing
    • Drink plenty of fluids 24 hours before donating, but avoid alcohol 
    • Put on loose and comfortable clothing, avoiding tight sleeves
    • It’s normal to be nervous, so bring a friend along or your iPod so you can relax

    Who can’t give blood?

    Most people can give blood. If you are generally in good health, aged 17 to 65 (if it’s your first time) and weigh at least 7st 12lb you can donate, but there are a few exceptions to who can’t give blood.
    You should not give blood if:
    • You’re pregnant or you’ve had a baby in the last 6 months
    • You’re a female donor who had given blood in the last 12 weeks
    • You have a chesty cough, sore throat or active cold sore
    • You’ve returned from a malarial area in the last 6 months
    • You’re currently taking antibiotics or you have just finished a course within the last seven days, or have had an infection in that last two weeks. 
    • You’ve had a tattoo, semi-permanent make-up or any cosmetic treatments that involves skin pieercing in the last 4 weeks.
    • You’ve had acupuncture in the last 4 months, unless with the NHS or a qualified healthcare professional
    • You have received blood during the course of any medical treatment anywhere in the world since 1st January 1980.
    It’s worth taking a look at the full list of reasons why you can’t or might not be able to give blood before you head to a donation session. 
    Did you know? If you are female, aged under 20, weigh under 10st 3lb and under 5′ 6” in height, you may need to have your blood volume estimated before donating. You can check this for yourself here.
    So if you’re interested in giving the best gift you could give this Christmas, visit or call 0300 123 23 23 to find a session near you.
    Merry Christmas!  
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