NHS uses virtual reality technology to attract new blood donors

18 May 2016


NHS Blood and Transplant will launch a new advertising campaign to highlight the life-saving power of blood donation and encourage people who have never given blood before to register to donate blood for the first time.

The campaign, which was created by agency 23Red and won a digital outdoor advertising competition run by Ocean Outdoor, uses innovative augmented reality technology to enable members of the public give a virtual blood donation via an iphone.

The campaign uses an augmented reality app which connects to a large advertising screen featuring an empty blood bag and ill patient. Visual recognition is used to detect a sticker on the recipient’s skin which then overlays a plaster, needle and tube over their arm.

As the participant watches they see ‘blood’ flowing down the tube from their arm and up onto the screen in front of them. As the blood bag fills up, the virtual donor can watch as the sick patient gradually returns to health before their eyes. It is the first time an augmented reality app has been used in this way to trigger animation via one of Ocean Outdoor’s giant screens.

The campaign features three people whose lives have been saved by blood donation. Natasha (34) from Stratford-upon-Avon required 44 units of blood and blood products when she suffered massive blood loss during the birth of her youngest son, Oliver, on Christmas Day 2015. Meanwhile, Amit (30) and Shalona (28) require regular blood transfusions for painful, life-threatening inherited blood conditions.

Amit, from Wembley, was diagnosed with Beta Thalassaemia Major at 18 months old, and requires blood transfusions every three weeks, with each transfusion taking six hours. Shalona, from Hackney, had her first blood transfusion in July 2009 when she was 38 weeks pregnant with her first child and hospitalised with a sickle cell crisis.

Natasha, who was a donor herself before receiving her life-saving blood transfusions, says, “The transfusion team told me I held the hospital record for the most blood transfused. I just wouldn’t be alive without blood donors. My children wouldn’t have their mother and my husband wouldn’t have his wife. If I could hug everyone of those donors who saved my life that day then I would. Words like thank you are just not enough.”

A make up artist worked closely with the trio to recreate how they looked when they were sick and in need of a transfusion. Personal photographs and feedback were used to ensure that the images in the campaign are as accurate and true to life as they can be.

NHS Blood and Transplant needs to collect 1.6 million units of blood each year to meet the needs of patients across England and faces a constant challenge to recruit the right mix of donors across all the various blood groups. There is a particular need to attract more younger donors (from 17 years old) and people from black and South Asian communities. People from black and South Asian communities are more likely to have rarer blood types and conditions, like Sickle Cell Disease or Thalassaemia respectively, which require regular blood transfusions.*

NHS Blood and Transplant needs just under 200,000 new donors to register to give blood this year. They will replace those who, like Natasha, are no longer able to donate, those who can’t donate temporarily due to travel or other short term restrictions and also help ensure we have the right mix of blood groups to meet future patient needs. 

Ian Trenholm, chief executive of NHS Blood and Transplant, says: “With just under 200,000 new donors needed every year, we need to find ways to show people the importance of blood donation. We hope that by getting people to give a virtual donation, we can get them thinking and explain what it takes to become a real life donor. The virtual experience gives an insight into the personal reward and satisfaction our loyal donors feel when they give blood and know they are saving lives. Each unit of blood donated can help save or improve the lives of up to three people.”

The campaign will appear in two prime shopping locations. From 18-20 May, the campaign will be running in New Street, Birmingham and then 20-22 May will move to Westfield, Shepherds Bush.

NHS Blood and Transplant have been trialling various new technologies to increase blood donation. Another recent pilot, which is now being introduced nationally, enables text messages to be sent to donors to let them know when their blood has been sent out and to which hospital it has been issued.

In general, as long as you are fit and healthy, weigh over 7 stone 12 lbs (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.

To find out more or book an appointment visit 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

*Thalassaemia is a condition which is more common amongst Asian communities, while Sickle Cell Disease is a condition which predominantly affects black people. Patients who require regular transfusions need blood which is more closely matched to their own to get the best outcome.

About NHS Blood and Transplant

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.

  • 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 7days
  • 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.

Follow us on:

Twitter: @givebloodnhs

Facebook: www.facebook.com/givebloodNHS

Instagram: @GivebloodNHS

Youtube: www.youtube.com/user/NHSGiveBlood