Intended for healthcare professionals


Open letter to the National Blood Service

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 20 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:979
  1. Arabella Melville, independent consultant for the NHS
  1. Bryn Derwen, 1 Osmond Terrace, Porthmadog, Gwynedd LL49 9AN

    EDITOR—Another invitation to give blood has arrived, bringing with it a now familiar wash of guilt. I have not given since last July, and I am not sure whether I shall ever do it again. My sister, whose rare blood group makes her contribution particularly valuable, will not go either, and for the same reasons.

    We both had blood taken by someone who was not competent to do the job. We both suffered pain and extensive bruising. Giving blood is not pleasant but it should not leave the arm discoloured and sore from elbow to wrist for over a week. Our experience the previous time had been bad, but the second time, it was unacceptable.

    I left a message informing the local service in Caernarfon, and their public relations woman called me back. She promised that she would make sure that the nurse responsible would ring me. I heard nothing. I rang the central London office and spoke to another woman who seemed to take my complaint seriously, although, she said, there was nothing she could do. She promised to fax the medical director without delay. Again, I heard nothing. Nobody, it seemed, was willing to accept responsibility.

    Although inadequate skill of a particular phlebotomist is, presumably, a local issue, I believe that my experience highlights a wider problem with the blood service. Given that donors are needed, should not the service do its best to minimise the unpleasantness of the experience?

    I have been giving blood for 30 years. Little has changed. There is no welcome, only a series of queues; staff do not introduce themselves, nobody takes care of novice donors, nobody takes any notice if a donor says her arm hurts (a reliable sign, I have discovered, that the needle has not been efficiently inserted). Donors are not treated as people—even less, as volunteers who should be encouraged.

    But few people will put up with this sort of treatment nowadays. If donors can be persuaded to come, they are not likely to return. I have never been invited to give feedback on my experiences. It seems that the blood service does not want to know what happens to its donors: it did not follow up my calls, nor question why my sister did not return. I would feel reassured if I knew the local problem was being taken seriously and the phlebotomist had received further training, but I have no reason to believe any action has been taken. No wonder the NHS is short of blood.

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