70 years of life saving blood donations

Volunteer blood donors have been helping to save lives for 70 years. Now, NHS Blood and Transplant is calling on young people to be the blood donors of the future, as they celebrate the creation of the National Blood Transfusion Service 70 years ago.

26 September 2016

70 years of life saving blood donations

  • National Blood Transfusion Service created 70 years ago today.
  • In 1946 there were around 270,000 donors blood donors, today there are around 900,000
  • In 1946 fewer than 200,000 donations were collected, last year donors made around 1.6 million donations
  • In 1946 donors were offered a drink and biscuits….. some things haven’t changed!

Volunteer blood donors have been helping to save lives for 70 years. Now, NHS Blood and Transplant is calling on young people to be the blood donors of the future, as they celebrate the creation of the National Blood Transfusion Service 70 years ago today.

Countless lives have been saved or improved over the years thanks to the generosity of blood donors since the development of the National Blood Transfusion Service, driven by the need to help treat wartime casualties. The First World War saw the adoption of blood transfusions to help save those injured on the battlefields. Donated blood was first needed on a large scale during the Second World War.

Blood Banks were created to meet the needs of injured civilians and Service personnel. These was taken under the control of the Ministry of Health in September 1946 and the National Blood Transfusion Service was born, now part of NHS Blood and Transplant.

The service is facing new challenges today, as half of all blood donors are over 45 years old. Younger people are being called on to carry on this great British tradition of giving blood, helping to meet patient needs now and for the future. More black and south Asian blood donors are also needed to reflect the ethnic diversity of patients. Blood which is more closely matched to their own helps patients to get the best outcome from treatment.

Mike Stredder, Director of Blood Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant said: “The birth of the National Blood Transfusion Service in September 1946 was the beginning of a long process of evolution that has seen many, many lives saved or improved thanks to volunteer blood donors.

“There have also been momentous changes in the way blood is collected and transfused over this time. NHS Blood and Transplant continues to work with hospitals to make sure that blood donation today keeps pace with the demands of modern medicine. Today’s blood donation programme, is based on patient need and ensuring we can provide the right amount of each blood group at the right time. Change will continue to ensure that we can support future advances in medicine.

“We want to thank all our loyal donors, your blood is precious and you are doing something amazing, helping to save and improve the lives of others. We hope you inspire the next generation to carry on the great British tradition of altruistic blood donation.”

In 1946, there were approximately 270,000 donors and blood collection was less than 200,000 units per year. By 2015, hospitals in England were provided with 1.6 million units of blood provided thanks to around 900,000 donors – around 154,000 gave blood for the first time.

Modernisation and new technology has played a major role in improvements to blood transfusion service in Britain. In 1948 blood transfusion therapy was restricted to the transfusion of whole blood, red cell concentrates and plasma.

Glass bottles were replaced with plastic packs in 1975, which allow a much wider use of blood components and new therapies for patients, including platelets for those suffering from leukaemia.

In 1946 the only test carried out was for syphilis, today there is much wider screening of blood and plasma donations for potential infections as new and deadly viruses have emerged, including HIV and Zika virus.

Every blood donation can save or improve up to three lives and each day NHS Blood and Transplant needs more than 6,000 donors to give blood at sessions across England to meet patient need. While donors from all blood groups are important there is a particular need for more O negative and A negative donors as both blood groups which can be vulnerable to shortfall.

Today, a more modern donor experience is offered at Donor Centres, with free WiFi on offer to donors and technology being used make it easy for people to register and make appointments online to donate blood. Text messages are now sent to donors, telling then when and where their donation has been used. However, the tradition of free tea and biscuits for donors continues today, along with soft drinks to meet changing tastes.

Become a blood donor and carry on the great British tradition of blood donation. Register today and book an appointment at www.blood.co.uk or call 0300 123 23 23.


  • For additional information please contact the NHS Blood and Transplant press office on 01923 367600 or via pressoffice@nhsbt.nhs.uk
  • For out of hours enquiries please call: 0117 969 2444

Notes to editors

  • NHS Blood and Transplant is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. We are responsible for ensuring a safe and efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England. We are also the organ donation organisation for the UK and are responsible for matching and allocating donated organs.
  • We are an essential part of the NHS and take pride in saving and improving lives by making the most of every voluntary donation, from blood and organs to tissues and stem cells.
  • Our work would not be possible without our donors - ordinary people doing extraordinary things by saving and improving the lives of others.
  • To find out more visit: www.nhsbt.nhs.uk
  • Blood donors can search for sessions, book appointments, change/cancel their appointments and change their contact details in real time at www.blood.co.uk
  • There are apps available for Android, Windows and Apple Smartphone and tablet devices which enable donors to search for sessions based on their location and book and manage appointments.
  • Our donor line - 0300 123 23 23 - is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with all calls charged at the standard local rate, even from mobile phones
  • NHS Blood and Transplant needs to collect 1.6 million units of blood each year to meet the needs of patients across England. It’s important that we collect the right amount of each blood group at the right time to meet patient needs.
  • There are four main blood groups – O, A, B and AB. Group O is the most common and therefore the most in demand. A regular supply of blood is vital – red cells last 35 days and platelets only 7 days
  • The overall demand for blood is falling by 3-4% per year. This is due to improvements in clinical practice and is a trend that is being seen around the world. The drop in demand for blood is also thanks to our work with hospitals to ensure blood is used appropriately for patients.
  • We need just under 200,000 new blood donors each year to replace those who no longer donate for reasons such as ill health, pregnancy or foreign travel and to ensure we have the right mix of blood groups to match patient needs in the future
  • Some blood groups, such as O negative (the universal blood group), A negative and B negative are particularly vulnerable to shortfalls. So we want people with those blood groups to donate as regularly as they can. We also need more black African, black Caribbean, mixed race and South Asian people to become blood donors to reflect the ethnic diversity of patients
  • Female whole blood donors can give blood every 16 weeks, while male blood donors must wait 12 weeks between donations. Platelets can be donated every 2 weeks.