Blood Donation

Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) has been part of the NHS since the foundation of the health service in 1948. But blood donor services supporting hospital transfusion began in Scotland well before then,

An Edinburgh dentist, John Copland, had watched as his friend’s wife died tragically due to a lack of blood, and he vowed never to let a scarcity of blood cause another such death. So he set up a panel of people willing to act as donors – the first Scottish blood donor panel. Donors were contacted at time of need and Mr Copland would receive telephone requests at any time and then ring round his panel to find suitable volunteers.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, a more organised approach was clearly needed and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Association [SNBTA] was established. John Copland was appointed as the national organiser. Plasma was taken from whole blood donations and treated so that it could be sent to front-line troops and reconstituted and transfused on the battlefield.

At the foundation of the NHS in 1948, the SNBTA became the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, still managed by the Association but now receiving government funds to deliver the service.

Blood donation numbers quadrupled in 31 years, reaching 220,000 in 1974 and gradually rising to 290,000 in 1984. At present almost 1 in 20 Scots are blood donors, which is barely sufficient to support current activities.

In the major NHS re-organisation of 1974, SNBTS was incorporated into the Common Services Agency now NHS National Services Scotland.

In 1975 the Protein Fractionation Centre (PFC) was opened in Edinburgh. The PFC took plasma from the donations – some was also collected as pure plasma from some donors – and converted this into therapeutic products.

The high level of blood donation in Scotland was maintained to the end of the 1990’s when concerns over risks from BSE, in the form of variant CJD, led to local UK collected plasma not being used. PFC switched to imported plasma from unpaid volunteer sources. The impact of variant CJD finally took its toll on PFC in 2006 when it became clear that the change of haemophilia treatment to artificial products and rising demand for other products meant that the small plant was no longer economical. After 25 years of service PFC closed in 2008.

Even though surgery has become more complex and more treatments are performed, blood usage has fallen steadily due to improved surgical technique and strategies to improve the effective use of blood. These initiatives are another area where Scotland is an acknowledged international leader through its internet-based learning resources and clinical transfusion education programmes.

SNBTS has embarked in 2008 on a strategic vision for re-organisation, so that the facilities, staff and services offered are fit for the 21st century.

Lynne Kidd
Head of Public Affairs, SNBTS

Libby Graham encourages you to Give Blood. 
Credit: SNBTS

Ordinary people continue to provide the lifeblood of the NHS.

The demand for blood is still there from patients of all ages and for a host of medical reasons.

Every day the NHS in Scotland needs 1000 donations. Every donation is an act of selfless altruism. It is the same now as it was in 1948.

Over the last 60 years ordinary Scottish donors have saved thousands of lives. That also makes them very special people