Frequently Asked Questions

We aim to answer a number of the most frequently asked questions here.

Should you have any questions which are not addressed here, or in the section Can I donate?, please feel free to contact us.

How Important is blood donation?

Blood donation is vitally important for proper delivery of health care. Blood transfusion is life saving and life enhancing.

The clearest indication for the transfusion of red cells is massive acute blood loss following a traffic accident, trauma or severe obstetric haemorrhage.

Blood transfusion therapy is very important in cancer care and includes the use of specialised blood components such as platelets to treat low platelet counts following chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for the cancer.

Many blood transfusions are given to cover surgical procedures where there is modest blood loss. This enables for example, surgery for cancer, cardiac bypass surgery for correction of coronary artery disease and vascular surgery for repair of aneurysm. The advent of blood transfusion therapy and the ready availability of banked blood have enabled surgical procedures to be adapted and the range of surgical procedures to be extended.

Blood transfusion is vitally important in the care of very premature, severe low birth weight infants and this contributes in no small measure to the improved survival in this patient group.

What is the procedure involved in becoming a blood donor?

You can enrol as a blood donor in a number of ways:

  • You can enrol now on this website by clicking here.
  • Alternatively you can text BLOOD to 60081.
  • You can also drop in at any blood donor session. Click here to see upcoming donor sessions in your area.
  • If you prefer you can also contact us here at NIBTS on 028 9032 1414.

Once your personal details have been taken you will be registered on our computer system, PULSE. If you have presented to a donor session a donation may be taken on the 1st visit if you complete the HealthCheck questionnaire and satisfy the relevant donor screening procedure. If you have enrolled on line/via text/by phone, you will be mailed out information regarding details of when and where you can donate. Along with this you will also receive the HealthCheck questionnaire and be asked to complete the relevant sections before coming along to the donation session.

Where are donation sessions held?

We hold blood donation sessions throughout Northern Ireland in schools, universities, churches and halls, and in some work-places. Donors can also attend our headquarters on the Belfast City Hospital site.

Is there anything in particular I should do before coming to donate blood?

Please ensure you take plenty of fluids and have been eating normally prior to donating.

What happens when I arrive at the donation session?

Your details will firstly be taken. You will then be asked to read the Donor Blood Safety information leaflet and complete the donor HealthCheck Questionnaire (if you were invited to donate by mail you should have already completed the 1st 3 sections of the questionnaire).

If you are a new donor, or a returning donor (last donated over 2 years ago), you will also have a brief chat with a nurse. Provided the information from the questionnaire is satisfactory, your haemoglobin will then be tested. This is done by taking a small sample of blood from your finger. Your donation will then be taken provided your haemoglobin is at least 125 g/l if you are a woman and at least 135 g/l if you are a man.

After donating we will ask you to take a short rest, a drink, and some biscuits.

What is involved in the donor HealthCheck questionnaire?

This is a structured questionnaire, which asks important questions about the donor’s general health, medication, lifestyle and travel.

These questions are important to ensure that the donation procedure is safe for the donor and that the donation is safe for the recipient of the blood. It also includes a declaration consenting to the donation being tested for certain transfusion transmissible infections.

New donors and donors who have not given in the last two years (lapsed donors) must complete a personal interview with our Registered General Nurse at the donation session.

What are the most common causes for deferral?
  • Feeling unwell
  • Infection
  • Antibiotics
  • Travel
  • Piercings/Tattoos
  • Underweight
  • Low blood count
How long does it take to donate blood?

The actual collection of blood will take approximately 10 minutes. Please allow about 45 minutes in total for entire visit.

How much blood will be taken?

About 470ml, or just under half a litre of blood per donation.

Can I go back to work after donating?

There should be no reason why you can’t return to work after donating unless you have a hazardous occupation.

What are the complications of blood donation?

For the vast majority of people, blood donation is a very straightforward and trouble-free experience. However, occasional problems can occur:

BRUISING: Bruises can develop when it has been difficult to obtain a blood donation, or when there has been some leakage of blood from the vein into the arm tissues after giving blood. Most bruises are small and not serious. Rarely, the bruise may be larger and painful. If this occurs, you should contact our Donor Helpline on 08085 534669, or email us. If it is outside our normal working hours and your symptoms are severe, please contact the out of hours GP service for medical advice.

FAINTING: A few people can feel faint after giving blood. To try and avoid this, you will be asked to rest after your donation for a short time (a longer time for first time donors) and you will be given something to drink. We also advise donors to take plenty of fluids and to avoid strenuous exercise for the next few hours. You should obviously also avoid taking part in any hazardous hobbies, such as rock climbing, scuba diving etc. or in any activity which could cause a risk to you or others if you were to feel faint or weak. Our staff on session are fully trained in dealing with donors who feel faint and will make sure you do not leave the session until you are feeling well. If however, you faint after you leave the session (called a “delayed faint”), please let us know.

UNCOMMON RISKS: Very rarely, insertion of the needle may cause irritation of a nerve close to the vein, or may cause inflammation in the arm. These complications are unusual, but if you do develop symptoms that you are concerned about, please contact our Medical Helpline on FREECALL 08085 534669 for advice.

What are donations currently tested for?

All donations are tested for Hepatitis B, C, A and E, HIV, Syphilis and HTLV (Human T-cell Lymphotropic virus).  Various testing technologies are used including antibody tests and nucleic acid tests.

Will these tests absolutely exclude infection by these viruses in the donor?

The short answer is no. Infection is screened for by antibody tests and as it takes the body some time (days to weeks depending on the infection) to form antibodies, there will be a time period when the donor could have the infection but not yet have formed detectable antibodies. This is known as the “window period”. One way of reducing the window period is to test for direct viral material, called nucleic acid testing. However, in early infection, this test may also be negative.

This is why the donor HealthCheck questionnaire includes important questions on lifestyle, as we cannot rely exclusively on laboratory testing for ensuring the safety of blood.

What should I do if I develop an infection after I donate?

If you become ill within 14 days after you donate, please inform us.

During normal working hours: (Mon-Thurs 8.30am – 8pm and Fri 8.30am – 5pm):

Please call our helpline: FREECALL 08085 534 669 for advice.

Outside of normal working hours, including the weekend:

Contact NIBTS on call staff via Belfast City Hospital Switchboard (028 90329241), who will take your details and relay the message to the on-call medical consultant.