Sickle cell disease: black donors urged to give blood as demand from patients soars | Sickle cell disease

The NHS is facing a shortage of blood amid rising demand from sickle cell disease patients, prompting senior health officials to make an urgent call for more black donors.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said a record level of blood donations is needed every day to treat people with sickle cell disease. The increasing demand for more care than ever before is because it is the “fastest growing genetic condition in the UK”, it said.

The demand for blood for the treatment of sickle cell disease has jumped by about 67% in the last five years. NHSBT said 250 donations are now needed every day to help people with sickle cell, when only around 150 donations were needed a day five years ago.

“Sickle cell disproportionately affects people from a Black African or Black Caribbean background and these new figures show that hospitals need more blood for people with sickle cell than ever before,” said NHS England’s director of improving healthcare inequalities, Dr Bola Owolabi. “I am asking everyone from these communities who can donate blood to step forward and help treat the thousands of people living with this painful inherited condition.”

NHSBT said “ethnically matched blood provides the best treatment” for the condition.

Health officials say increasing demand is driven by increasing numbers of patients, patients living longer, and more people receiving “whole blood transfusions”. Currently, the NHS is only able to provide matched blood for just over half of hospital requests.

Other patients must be treated with O-negative, the universal blood type, which is clinically safe but can lead to complications in the long term.

About 55% of black people have a Ro blood type, compared to 2% of the wider population. “There is not enough Ro blood available for sickle cell patients to meet hospital demand,” added an NHSBT briefing note.

People with sickle cell disease produce abnormally shaped red blood cells that can cause problems because these cells don’t live as long as healthy blood cells and can block blood vessels. This can lead to “agonizing crisis episodes” and potentially fatal complications, including organ damage or stroke.

It is a serious and lifelong health condition, although treatment can help manage many of the symptoms. Many sickle cell patients need regular blood transfusions to stay alive.

Oyesola Oni, 39, from Nottingham, has to have all her blood replaced with donor blood every five weeks because of sickle cell disease. She said: “I would encourage people of black heritage to get out and donate. It’s in your blood to help people like me.”

Dr Rekha Anand, a consultant in transfusion medicine for NHSBT, said: “Matched blood is essential for sickle cell patients to reduce the risk of serious complications and black people are more likely to donate matched blood.

“There is a small increase in black people donating blood, but we urgently need more to become regular donors. Giving blood is easy, fast and safe – and you will save and improve lives.