What is plasma used for?
The plasma you donate to us (NHS Blood and Transplant) is given to patients as a transfusion.
There are two very different treatment uses for plasma.
Around the world, plasma can be used to manufacture two different types of treatments:
- blood components, which is done by us
- plasma-derived medicinal products – these are medicines and are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies
NHS Blood and Transplant uses plasma to make two blood components known as Fresh Frozen Plasma (FFP) and cryoprecipitate (cryo), which are given to patients as a transfusion.
This plasma is either separated out from donated whole blood or taken specifically as a plasma donation at our blood donor centres.
FFP and cryo are supplied to hospitals in the same way as other blood components, such as red blood cells and platelets.
FFP is typically used to help people’s blood clot after major blood loss, for example after a car crash. It can also be used for rare diseases and cases of liver failure.
Our donors are in the UK. They are unpaid blood, platelet and plasma donors, who are donating to help save the lives of other people.
More about plasma and how it helps people
Plasma-derived medicinal products
The medicinal products made from plasma by pharmaceutical companies do not use UK plasma.
This manufacturing (involving plasma fractionation) uses plasma from outside the UK.
Plasma fractionation involves separating out proteins from very large pools of plasma donations.
This is performed on an industrial scale by pharmaceutical companies to manufacture plasma-derived medicinal products.
These are provided in small doses and injected via a syringe, not transfused.
These companies do not work with NHS donors and donations.
However, in February 2021 the Government removed the ban on UK-sourced blood plasma for the manufacture of immunoglobulins.
This means that in the future plasma from whole blood donations can be made into medicines.
Plasma for coronavirus research
At the moment we are also collecting plasma from people who have recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19). This is known as convalescent plasma.
Convalescent plasma is essentially a type of fresh frozen plasma (FFP) which contains specific antibodies that can potentially be used to help treat people with coronavirus.
We are collecting plasma from donors to be used in clinical research and possible coronavirus treatments.
More about using plasma for coronavirus research
Our history with Plasma Resources UK
Some confusion exists about plasma donations being used for profit. We do not sell your plasma or pay people to donate, and the donation process is not privatised or run for profit.
After the decision was taken to stop using UK plasma for fractionation due to the risk of vCJD transmission, the UK Government created a company called Plasma Resources UK (PRUK). PRUK imported plasma from the USA and manufactured fractionated plasma medicines for NHS patients.
It had a branch in the USA and the Bio Products Lab in England. The Bio Products Lab was part of NHS Blood and Transplant but is now separate.
In 2013, 80% of this company was sold to a company called Bain Capital.
It has been wrongly suggested that the whole of the UK plasma supply had been sold. In fact, this relates only to fractionated plasma whereas NHS Blood and Transplant continues to collect plasma for profit-free patient transfusion.
Does anyone sell blood plasma?
In some other countries, plasma derived medicinal products are made from plasma donated by donors who are paid. These medicines can be imported to the UK.
It’s illegal to pay blood donors in the UK.
Does NHS Blood and Transplant sell plasma for profit?
No, NHS Blood and Transplant does not sell plasma for profit.
NHS organisations charge each other for the cost of services, on a cost recovery basis. For example, an NHS commissioning group might give an NHS hospital a fixed sum of money for a hip operation.
In the same way, NHS Blood and Transplant receives money for each unit of red cells, platelets and plasma that it supplies to hospitals. This money covers NHS Blood and Transplant’s costs.
Is NHS plasma donation privatised?
NHS plasma donation is not privatised. NHS Blood and Transplant is an NHS organisation. It is a Special Health Authority, reporting into the Department of Health and Social Care.
How can I help?
If you see people suggesting that ‘NHS blood donation has been privatised’ or similar claims please direct them to this page.
The confusion could put people off donating and we need people to keep donating and saving lives.