Growing rates of sickle cell disease trigger urgent need for more black donors to give blood

20 June 2017

NHS Blood and Transplant has launched an urgent appeal for more black donors to come forward to help them meet the demand for blood required by sickle cell patients. The appeal has been launched after a 75% increase[1] in the amount of Ro blood – a special subtype which is most common in black people – has been issued to hospitals between 2014 – 2016, with expectations that demand will grow further.  A high proportion of this blood will be used to treat sickle cell disease, the most common and fastest growing genetic disorder in the UK[2].

During National Blood Week (19th – 25th June) NHS Blood and Transplant estimate that a further 40,000 new black donors are still needed in order to meet growing demand.

In the UK, 15,000 people have sickle cell disease and over 300 babies are born each year with the condition. The condition can cause extreme pain, life-threatening infections and other complications such as stroke or loss of vision.

Advances in the treatment of sickle cell disease also means that patients with sickle cell disease are living longer and the demand for transfusions is higher than ever before. Yet, to get the best treatment, patients need blood which is closely matched. This is most likely to come from a donor of the same ethnicity. However, currently only 1% of blood donors in England are black.

If patients do not receive blood which is has a close enough match, then there is a risk that they can suffer reactions to the donated blood or develop additional antibodies which make it harder to find matching blood in the future.

Mike Stredder, Director of Blood Donation, NHS Blood and Transplant, says:

“Every day, blood donors across the country make a difference; saving people whose lives depend on blood. Whether it is patients receiving treatment for cancer, blood disorders, after accidents, surgery or during childbirth. But we need to ensure that we have the right mix of donors and blood types, to help meet the needs of all patients who need life-saving treatment, especially those with conditions like sickle cell disease who require blood which is more closely matched than by group alone.

“In recent weeks, we have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people stepping forward and wanting to donate and show their support for those affected by recent tragic events. Thankfully, due to the loyalty of our regular donors, our emergency stocks have proven to be strong and sufficient, but we still need to ensure that we can be there every day, for every patient who needs us.

“Don’t worry if you’ve never given blood before and don’t know what blood group you are – you find out shortly after your first donation. What’s important is that you register as a donor and book your first appointment to donate. By saying ‘I’m there’, you can save the life of someone else, while going about yours.”

Matthew Akinmuleya, 10, from London, was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth and had his first pain crisis at six months old. Since his diagnosis he has required a blood transfusion every month, which means he is likely to have received over 100 transfusions. He is still very ill and in the last six months, he has been admitted to hospital every month.

Matthew’s mum, Omotolani, explains:  “It’s very stressful and very upsetting seeing your child being in pain every day. He has no break.  The hospital tried to see if he could manage without blood transfusions, but he had so much pain, A&E admissions, IV and oral morphine. Nothing could help. The blood he receives makes a huge difference. In the first two weeks after his transfusion he is like a normal ten-year-old. He has energy and is able to go to school. But after three weeks, he starts to look pale, jaundiced, tired and pain takes over. In the week before his transfusion, he will be in severe pain and often admitted to hospital.As a mother and carer, I really appreciate all of those who donate. My child would not have survived without you. We need the help for our children to help them live. Without this blood, his story would be so different.”

During National Blood Week, NHS Blood and Transplant is urging people to say #ImThere and start saving lives by registering as new blood donors. To register or book an appointment visit, call 0300 123 23 23 or search for ‘NHS Give Blood’ app.

In general, as long as you are fit and healthy, weigh over 7 stone 12lbs (50kg) and are aged between 17 and 66 (up to 70 if you have given blood before) you should be able to give blood. If you are over 70, you need to have given blood in the last two years to continue donating.

  • Whether you are a long term donor or newly registered, show your support for blood donation and those patients whose lives depend on it today, by saying #ImThere on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  • Campaign hashtags: #GiveBlood #ImThere

For further information contact Suzi Browne on or 01923 366844 or NHS Blood and Transplant press office on 01923 367600 or For out of hours enquiries: 0117 969 2444

Notes to Editors

  • Sickle cell disease is a serious condition which affects the blood and various organs within the body, causing extreme pain, life threatening infections and other complications such as stroke or loss of vision. Blood transfusions can help prevent or relieve these symptoms.
  • The ‘I’m there’ campaign highlights how you can save the life of someone else, while going about yours. It celebrates the difference donors make to those whose lives depend on blood. By registering and giving blood, a donor can be proudly say #ImThere for those who need them.  

NHS Blood and Transplant

  • NHS Blood and Transplant is 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.
  • Our work would not be possible without our donors - ordinary people doing extraordinary things by saving and improving the lives of others.
  • Blood donors can search for sessions, book appointments, change/cancel their appointments and change their contact details in real time at
  • 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 -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 7days
  • 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.

[1]2014 – 12,636 units issued, 2016 – 22,059 units, NHS Blood and Transplant

[2]NHS Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Screening Programmes, Sickle Cell Disease in Childhood Standards and Guidelines for Clinical Care, 2010, 2nd edn. Sickle Cell Society


Become a blood donor

Sign up