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Blood donation has hit the headlines in the last few weeks, after the tragic events in Manchester led to locals queuing round the block to do their bit to help the injured.This surge in donations was based to some extent on a misconception about how the need for blood is managed and a lack of understanding about how the blood supply is secured, something which NHSBT have been assiduous in addressing through the Press and social media in the days afterwards. But how does a blood service ensure highly motivated new donors who come forward in response to a disaster are not lost afterwards? This World Blood Donation Day (14 June), our Systematic Review Initiative group, part of NHS Blood and Transplant, take us through the recent evidence on donation practice from their Transfusion Evidence Library – a fully searchable online database of all the highest quality evidence in transfusion medicine. 

Blood donation is an altruistic act, and often all it takes is a phone or text reminder to get  existing donors to book an appointment.  But what about when people need an extra push either to sign up as first-time donors or to return after a long absence?  The personal touch seems to be key.

Several studies have found that a motivational interview, either in person or by telephone increases people’s intention to donate.  Rather more spookily, showing students a picture of “watching eyes” as part of a publicity campaign may also increase motivation.  Counterintuitively, marketing letters including “Blood Donation Saves Lives” messages were no better than a standard letter at boosting donation in lapsed donors.

A study of strategies used after the 9/11 attacks in the USA indicates again that engaging with people on a personal level is vital.  Donors need to know how their contribution is used and valued: rich, story-based information about how their donation saves lives leads people to donate a second and subsequent times, in a way that simple one-off gimmicks do not.

Just a month ago, NHSBT researchers announced they had grown human blood stem cells – the cells that give rise to various components of our blood – in the laboratory for the first time. While this is an incredibly exciting step forward, the days of independence from the altruism of blood donors are still a way off. In the meantime, it’s important that NHSBT continue to investigate and implement strategies to boost donor recruitment.