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Maintaining Blood Safety
9 September 2015
The UK blood industry relies on a complex infrastructure to collect, screen, distribute and store blood. Blood safety is integral to this system and strict regulations are in place to mitigate any associated risks.
So what procedures are in place and how have they enabled the UK to maintain a positive blood safety record? We take a look at blood safety measures in the UK.
In the UK, restrictions are in place to determine who can give blood. All blood donors must be between the ages of 17 and 70 and in good health. Prior to donation, a health check will be carried out to ensure that the donor’s blood is safe for a patient to receive. The donor will also be asked detailed questions about their medical history, lifestyle and associated risks. Government figures reveal that over 10% of individuals attending UK blood sessions are deferred.
During collection, meticulous care is taken to ensure that all equipment is sterile. One blood bag is filled per donor and all blood bags and sample tubes are labelled with unique donor identification numbers. Accurate cataloguing enables the tracking of a blood donation, in case of any complications. It is also is essential to avoid the wrong blood type being given to a patient.
At donation clinics, all staff will follow best practice to maintain a sterile, safe environment at all times. They will frequently wash their hands using gels or wipes and ensure that prior to the insertion of needles, arms are thoroughly cleaned to avoid any risk of infection.
As donations in the UK are unpaid with donors giving for altruistic reasons, the transmission of serious infection is extremely rare. Nevertheless, it is essential to test blood for all common infections, to avoid passing these on to a patient.
Sophisticated screening systems are in place, incorporating thirteen tests on each unit of donated blood. 11 of these are to identify the pathogens responsible for infectious diseases, including hepatitis B and C, HIV and syphilis.
Despite efforts to keep donated blood sterile, bacteria can very occasionally develop. However, according to the NHS, there have been no bacterial infections contracted from contaminated blood in the UK since 2009.
Sophisticated blood storage conditions are required to ensure blood products remain in optimum condition. The various components of blood require storage at different temperatures. Whole blood and red blood cells should be stored at 1-6°C, whilst plasma requires a temperate of -18°C or colder. Platelets are the most vulnerable to contamination, as they require storage at room temperature. (20-24°C)
Optimum temperatures must be maintained at all times, including during the transportation and distribution of blood. Technical laboratory freezers, refrigeration and storage units are used so that temperatures of the different blood components can be monitored with pinpoint accuracy.
There are also restrictions on the length of time that blood components can be stored for. Platelets can only be stored for 5 days, whilst it is safe to keep red blood cells for up to 42 days and frozen plasma can be kept for up to a year.
Blood safety for Health
Systems for blood donation, screening, distribution and storage have to be robust to keep the UK supplied with safe blood products. Strict regulations at every stage of the process have facilitated a smooth-running and efficient system with an excellent safety record.< Back to blog list