NHSBT backs appeal for more Black blood donors launched today: United by Blood – Donating in Memory of Evan Nathan Smith

18 May 2021

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is supporting three social organisations who are today launching an appeal for Black blood donors in memory of Evan Nathan Smith, a young Black man who had sickle cell disease and died following a sickle cell crisis. Sickle cell is treated with blood transfusions and is the fastest growing genetic condition in the UK, with 14,000 existing patients and 300 babies born with sickle cell each year.

Evan Nathan SmithDonors from the Black and mixed Black communities are urgently needed as they are more likely to have Ro, the blood type needed to treat patients suffering from the complications of sickle cell disease. Ro blood is ten times more common in Black people. Every month more than 1,300 new Black donors are needed to provide not only essential treatment for sickle cell but also life-saving blood for use in emergencies, childbirth, surgery, treatment of cancer and a range of medical conditions.

The appeal by United by Blood, a coalition comprising ACLT (African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust), Black Mums Upfront and Cell Fe For Life, supported by NHSBT, is designed to encourage more Black people to register and become regular blood donors in Evan Nathan’s memory. NHSBT is today announcing a package of measures to enable them to do so.

On the weekend of World Sickle Cell Awareness Day (Saturday19 June) and Father’s Day (Sunday 20 June) NHSBT will hold special blood donation events at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and four other venues across London, as well as in Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester. United by Blood is asking the Black community to spare a small amount of time to donate blood and save up to three lives. As well as giving blood, attendees will be able to find out their blood group and have their blood tested for the sickle cell trait. Trained staff representative of the Black community will be involved in sessions. A dedicated phone line - 0300 303 2737 - operated by similarly trained and representative staff has been set up to book appointments on these sessions. Alternatively, potential donors can visit blood.co.uk to find out more.

Colin Anderson, Events & Outreach Officer at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “It is vital that Black people understand the growing need from within our own community for ethnically matched blood and that they feel comfortable coming to donate. Sickle cell is the most common and fastest growing genetic disorder in the UK that mainly affects Black people, and many patients rely on regular blood transfusions to help treat and prevent the painful symptoms and complications. These patients require blood that is more closely matched, and this is most likely to come from a donor of the same ethnicity. There is a rise in black people donating blood, but we urgently need more to become regular donors.

“These special sessions have been organised to support United by Blood in this invaluable work to raise awareness of the need for Black donors, and to demonstrate how easy and safe donation is. Safety at collection centres is our number one priority, so people need have no worries about that. During the pandemic we have taken extra precautions including spacing donors out, extra cleaning, wearing of masks and temperature checks. Coming out of lockdown measures, we will continue to do what is needed to protect donors and staff.”

Minister for Blood Donation, Lord Bethell, said: “Throughout this global pandemic, people up and down the country have shown they have been willing to do their bit to help send COVID-19 into retreat. To help us fight other dangerous diseases and save lives, we urgently need more Black blood donors to come forward.

“Different diseases require different blood groups and we have an exceptional need for more black donors because a black person is ten times more likely to have a rare subgroup called Ro, which helps to treat degenerative diseases like sickle cell.

“This new campaign and NHSBT’s support will play a vital role in encouraging donations as we make it easier than ever for people in minority communities to give blood by holding special events and opening new donor centres where they are needed and providing reassurance that it is safe to donate.”

These donation sessions are part of NHSBT’s long-term ambition to make blood donation more accessible to Black donors. In the past year, there has been a significant drop in the number of Black blood donors due to concerns about the safety of giving blood during the COVID-19 pandemic. From 1 January 2020 to 1 January 2021 the number of active Black donors in the previous 12 months fell by 11% from 13,895 to 12,376, while the number of new Black donors donating in a month fell by 78% from Jan 20 to April 20 379 to 84 donors.
Knowledge that people from ethnic minorities were disproportionately affected by the virus was a major obstacle to donation for many Black people. Exposure to the virus during travel to a collection centre was also a concern.

More general barriers to donation include:

  • Lack of trust
  • Lack of awareness of need
  • Misconceptions about eligibility
  • Resistance among family and friends
  • Lack of understanding of the process, and where to donate
  • Being unable to donate immediately, due to appointment availability or the need to defer for a variety of reasons

To counter these, in addition to the specialist sessions, NHSBT has opened new donor centres in areas such as Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush in London. We are funding community led grassroots engagement for the first time this year and encouraging partners and influencers to raise awareness of the need, make group bookings and organise bespoke or specialist sessions. More generally, we are also forging faith partnerships, making national advertising more appealing to this audience, with supporting local advertising, improving service provision for Ro donors, and reviewing the donor session experience, including communications.

Dates and venues of the special sessions:

  • Saturday 19 June (World Sickle Cell Awareness Day)
  • London Westfield Shepherd’s Bush Donor Centre
  • London Westfield Stratford Blood Donor Centre
  • London West End Blood Donor Centre
  • Birmingham Blood Donor Centre, New Street
  • Bristol Blood Donor Centre
  • Manchester Norfolk House Donor Centre

Sunday 20 June (Father’s Day)

  • Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
  • London Brixton – Lambeth Town Hall

Call the priority booking line on 0300 303 2737 to book your appointment and our community of life-saving donors who regularly save lives. Visit blood.co.uk to find out more.