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News: NHS Blood and Transplant asks AB + women to donate blood less frequently

7 March 2016

NHS Blood and Transplant is writing to female blood donors with the AB + blood group to let them know that we will invite them to give blood less frequently than they may be used to in future.

Female blood donors can donate blood every sixteen weeks, which means they can donate three times a year providing that they can continue to meet the blood donation criteria.  But, NHS Blood and Transplant is asking female blood donors who have the blood group AB + to donate less frequently as hospitals’ requirement for this blood group is at its lowest level for more than a decade.

Around 3 per cent of blood donors are AB + and their blood can only safely be given to patients who are also AB +.  Conversely, patients with AB + blood can safely receive blood from any blood group and are considered to be the ‘universal red cell recipient’. This means that should patients with this blood group need red blood cells in an emergency, they can safely receive any of the other groups and are not reliant on AB + blood being available for them. As a result, hospital demand for this blood group is lower than for others.

An important use of AB+ blood is in the production of fresh frozen plasma. Fresh frozen plasma is not produced from donations by women due to antibodies that can be produced during pregnancy that may cause a life-threatening condition in the patient receiving their plasma.  This means that we only produce fresh frozen plasma using donations from male donors.

Mike Stredder, Director of Blood Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We appreciate that giving blood is very important to donors and we are grateful to everyone who gives up their time to save and improve patient lives.  The NHS’ overall need for blood has been declining for a number of years, but some blood groups are in greater need than others, with the need for some blood groups, for example O -, and rarer sub types, such as Ro, increasing. It’s important we collect the right amount of each blood group in line with patient needs and don’t waste what is a precious resource, donated voluntarily by donors.

“We understand that some female donors with the AB + blood group will be disappointed that we will be inviting them to donate less frequently in future.  But we hope they appreciate the reasons for this. It’s important we collect blood in line with what patients need, and if there aren’t patients that need their blood at a certain time, it would be wrong of us to ask them to donate. If we did, we could end up collecting blood from this group of donors in excessive quantities and wasting the donor’s time unnecessarily.

“We still need men with the AB + blood group and AB + women and men with the Ro sub type to keep on donating as frequently as possible.  This will help us to continue to produce fresh frozen plasma in the right quantities for patients and to meet the needs of AB + patients with the Ro subtype, who may receive regular transfusions to treat conditions like sickle cell disease, and require AB + Ro blood in order to avoid complications.”

Ends

  • 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 (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. Its remit includes the provision of a reliable, efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England and North Wales. It is also the organ donor organisation for the UK and is responsible for matching and allocating donated organs
  • Donors can search for sessions, change their contact details, book appointments and change/cancel their appointments in real time on 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 your location, book and manage appointments.
  • NHSBT’s 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
  • NHSBT collects 1.7 million units of blood each year
  • Less than 3% of people aged 17-70 living in England and North Wales have donated blood in the last 12 months  
  • A unit of blood is measured as 470mls (or just under a pint)
  • 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
  • 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