Blood service in drive to attract young donors

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The blood service is targeting young people in an attempt to boost the numbers of new donors. A campaign in universities and colleges will encourage 18- to 24-year-olds to join the 2 million adults who already give blood. The effort comes as stocks are at a record low.

Sue Cunningham, a National Blood Authority spokeswoman, said: "When we look at the age breakdown of donors, we are conscious that we're not getting enough of the younger age group. Research on giving blood has shown that if we can encourage people to give about four times we've got them for life. There is no evidence that younger people wouldn't want to give blood."

The amount of blood collected has risen steadily over the last three years to 2,402,638 donations last year. This beat the previous record of 2,345,455 pints given in 1992 when the public responded to big appeals for supplies because of the Gulf war. But demand has also risen by 1.5 to 2 per cent a year, with a rise last year of 4 per cent on 1994, and a record peak in the month of November.

Although improvements in surgical technique mean some operations can be carried out with fewer pints of blood required, the amount of surgery is increasing. Mrs Cunningham said demand frequently rose in March when hospital trusts carried out more operations to use up budget surpluses before the end of the financial year.

The authority has had to work harder to recruit donors in recent years as employers have grown less willing to allow staff to attend sessions during work-time. "The recession has had an impact," she said.

Officials blamed the flu epidemic and the Christmas lull for a slump in collections in the last five weeks. On Monday, there were fewer than 9,000 units of blood - a unit is the treated blood from each pint donation - in transfusion centres compared with the 20,000 level they aim to have in stock.

The shortages were continuing to have a serious impact on the NBA's ability to meet hospital demands yesterday. A source said the Lancaster transfusion centre was left with no stocks of the most common blood group, O-positive, after emergency supplies were sent to two hospitals following a serious accident.