NHS missing out on plasma donations because people don’t know they can donate

13 November 2023

The NHS is facing a significant challenge to recruit enough new plasma donors because many people don’t realise they are eligible to donate.

If enough people came forward to donate over the next year, that would provide enough plasma medicine to save or improve around 100 lives, reducing how much the NHS has to import and creating a safer supply chain for patients. (1)

There are currently around 6,300 regular plasma donors across the country and around 6,100 more are needed over the next year

NHS Blood and Transplant is running the 'All Types Can Save Lives' campaign this month with the message that most people can donate, no matter their background.

Plasma donation only restarted two years ago and NHSBT research shows most people are willing to give plasma but many don’t know if they are eligible.

Plasma is part of your blood. It is used to make medicines which treat more than 50 different diseases. (2) It does not need to be matched by blood type.

Plasma donation is similar to blood donation and takes about 35 minutes. The difference is blood is gradually ran through a machine which separates out the plasma.

The donor’s plasma contains antibodies, part of your body’s immune system, which strengthen or stabilise the patient’s immune system.

These antibodies are made into medicines including immunoglobulin.

Plasma donation to the NHS only restarted in 2021 after a break of more than 20 years. Donation was stopped as a vCJD precaution until the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said new evidence showed it could safely restart.

The plasma being collected by NHSBT is being frozen and will improve future immunoglobulin supplies, when the full supply chain is in place. Taking more donations now will improve the future security of supply and reduce how much the NHS has to buy on the international market.

How plasma helps

People supporting the campaign include Emma Armstrong, Mark Hobbs and Elsa Gavrill who have all received medicines made from plasma.

How you can help

Dr Naim Akhtar, Consultant Haematologist and Lead in Donor Medicine, said:

"You have a medicine in you which helps babies’ hearts, adds antibodies, improves the immune system, prevents paralysis - it’s amazing, life-saving plasma.

"If you’re not sure if you can donate, check out our website and book your appointment today – most people who come to their first appointment can donate."

You can donate plasma in Birmingham, Reading and Twickenham. Find out more about our donation centres here.

If you’re the giving type, find out more about donating plasma.

Press release notes

  1. Based on each of the 2,620 new donors going on to make five donations over the year. The average person who receives immunoglobulin requires medicine derived from around 122 donations per year, according to the overall figures in the 2021/22 National Immunoglobulin Database Report. The average donation to NHSBT provides around 2.8 grams of immunoglobulin.
  2. Plasma is made into medicines such as immunoglobulin which is mainly used to treat people with immunodeficiencies (where the person does not have enough of their own antibodies to fight infections) and autoimmune disorders (where the person’s immune system is mistakenly attacking their own body).