A huge increase in demand across London for a rare blood type needed to treat sickle cell disease, which disproportionately affects Black people, has prompted an urgent call for more people of Black heritage to donate blood in Lambeth.
Last year, hospitals across London requested 58% more R0 type blood than they did five years ago. They asked for 36,930 units of R0 in 2016/17 and for 58,359 units in 2021/22. Demand is expected to continue to grow rapidly.
Brixton is one of the top ten areas in London for R0 donors, with 93 giving blood at a recent local session.
However, still more are needed to help meet demand across the capital.
Demand for R0 type blood is the fastest growing across the whole country because it is urgently needed to treat sickle cell disease, the fastest growing genetic disease in the UK.
Only 2% of NHS donors in England have R0 type blood, which is 10 times more common in Black than in white people.
Sickle cell is a genetic disorder that causes red blood cells to form into sickle or crescent shapes and become stuck in blood vessels, causing agonising crisis episodes, and serious or even fatal long-term complications, including organ damage and strokes.
Many people with sickle cell rely on regular blood transfusions to stay alive.
This blood needs to be well matched and people of the same ethnicity are more likely to be a match, the NHS says.
Dr Naim Akhtar, an NHS blood and transplant consultant haematologist and lead in donor medicine, said: “Getting enough R0 blood is our biggest priority and London is the area with the most need.
“There is a rise in Black people donating blood, but we urgently need more Black people in Lambeth to become regular donors.”
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a special health authority providing the blood donation service for England and the organ donation service for the UK.
Its mobile teams regularly collect blood around the country at community venues like church halls. Its permanent donor centres in London are in Tooting, Edgware, the West End, Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford.
While the overall demand for blood is falling by 3 to 4% a year due to improvements in clinical practice and work to ensure blood is used appropriately, NHSBT still needs up to 200,000 new blood donors each year to replace those who stop donating and to ensure it have the right mix of blood groups to match future patient needs.
Free, curriculum-linked, online resources are available for secondary school teachers in England to help educate key stage 3 and 4 students (11-16-year-olds) about blood, organ and stem cell donation.