UK blood service could be part privatised by the government

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 08 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1534
  1. Helen Mooney
  1. 1London

The UK government could begin to privatise part of the NHS Blood and Transplant service in a move that could see private companies profiting from the thousands of free blood donations given each day in the country.

The Department of Health for England is reviewing how the service currently operates. A department spokeswoman said that the government would be “considering the experience and skills that exist in the private sector to identify opportunities for making NHSBT [NHS Blood and Transplant] more commercially effective.”

She added that the government was not considering privatising “any functions that could risk destabilising the current national donor system, particularly the interface with donors.”

An article in the Health Service Journal last month said that the health department steering group charged with shaping the future of NHS Blood and Transplant has already held talks with a number of private sector providers about running parts of the service and is considering outsourcing blood distribution and storage but keeping its collection service in-house.

However, a spokeswoman for NHS Blood and Transplant denied that there were currently any proposals to privatise the service. “The review . . . is at an early stage and is likely to take a few months, and as yet no recommendations have been made. As part of this review they [the government] are talking to private providers about what NHSBT could do differently. It is not a procurement or tendering exercise, and any changes would not involve activities directly affecting blood donors.”

The trade union Unite has already written to the service’s chief executive, Linda Hamlyn, warning that any move to privatise the service could have serious effects on its relations with blood and organ donors.

A Unite regional officer, Owen Granfield, said, “People who give blood for free because they believe it’s in the common good will be shocked to learn that the Department of Health is considering allowing the private sector to profit from their blood. This is blood money and it is totally wrong.

“On behalf of the staff working for the blood service . . . we have written to the chief executive of [Blood and Transplant] demanding to know just how far discussions with the private sector have progressed. Unite is not prepared to allow the private sector to profit from a voluntary service which was in existence even before the NHS was founded.

“The very essence of the blood service is about people giving their blood for free to help and save lives. The blood service is always short of donors, and privatisation could have serious effects on the fragile relationship between the service and voluntary donations.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1534

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