The gift of a pint

Fiona McCallion donating blood at Clooney Hall. DER0614SL100 Photo: Stephen Latimer
Fiona McCallion donating blood at Clooney Hall. DER0614SL100 Photo: Stephen Latimer

When asked what would happen if there was no such thing as the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS), Paul McElkerney, Donation Recruitment and Sessions Organiser says: “People would die. We can never run out of blood, we literally can’t allow this situation to arise.”

NIBTS have never run out. They work tirelessly all year round in the saving lives business.

Recently I attended my fifth blood donation session at Clooney Hall Centre. It’s such a simple, yet important thing to do. There’s a lot of wariness or fear among my contemporaries, but for what?

Donation sessions are usually held in interesting public buildings. Places you don’t normally have reason to visit, but now have an excuse to get a look around. You pick up a number card, and the person in the waiting area checks your details, or registers you if it’s a first time donation.

500 patients a week in Northern Ireland require blood. That’s 26,000 patients per year who receive donated blood. It is a common misconception that accidents and emergencies are the sole cause for blood donations. Mr McElkerney says that 40% of the blood donated goes to cancer patients. Huge amounts go to routine surgeries, and 1000 mothers per year will require blood during childbirth. Realistically 1500 people are needed each week to donate blood.

I was pleasantly surprised by the stream of people coming in.

I got chatting to a lovely man from Culmore who gave me tips on how not to be nervous if I ever attempt my driving lessons again. I got a nosy at my surroundings in the main hall. I filled in my form and then did the iron level test, which is a pinprick on your finger, and a dot of blood is checked for iron levels. I was then requested to chat to a nurse who asked a few extra questions as it was over two years since my last donation.

Winter and Christmas particularly can be difficult for blood supplies.

People go shopping instead, they say they will catch NIBTS the next time they are in town. Colds and flus can stop people from donating, and ice on the roads put people off. However, those 500 people will still require blood, despite all the setbacks.

For the actual donation, my number was called, and I was invited to lie down on a raised bed behind a screen. The friendly man who was helping me got me an extra pillow so I was more comfortable.

It usually takes ten minutes for the donation. Everything is explained as you go along. I was asked several times throughout if I still felt ok. I’ve never had any issues at all.

As Mr McElkerney says, “if you want to feel how painful blood donation is, give yourself a pinch on the arm.’ There’s a slight nip and that’s it. You can chat to the assistant if you’re a bit nervous or just relax and enjoy the break. All the equipment is under your raised bed so if you’re like me and would rather not look at it, you don’t have to.

“There’s a one in four chance that you will at some stage need blood in your life. Everyone knows someone in their family who has been given blood. As it stands, only six percent of the population in Northern Ireland do donate blood.

“People think that they are giving their blood to NIBTS, to a service. They aren’t, they are giving it to a patient.”

Mr McElkerney tells me I saved someone’s life over the weekend. How often can you say that? If people could actually see and meet the person that they have helped, the volume of donations would undoubtedly be higher.

When you’re finished, your arm is given an impressive-looking bandage and you rest for another ten minutes.

After that, you’re encouraged to have a drink of juice or tea and a biscuit. You can definitely act the hero, as statistics say that you will have saved a life within four days.

Most people between the ages of 17 and 65 can donate blood for the first time. Everyone is encouraged to give blood every 16 weeks.

Mr McElkerney says “Derry continues to house some of the strongest supported sessions – but it is an essential service and blood is always needed.” The next blood donation session in Derry is at the North West Regional College on February 19 and 20.

To find out more about local blood donation sessions or enrol text ‘blood’ to 60081 or log on to