Letter: Give donors a say over sale of blood

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'NHS blood for private foreign patients' (7 March) lucidly describes the dilemma of blood donors and the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) in meeting the needs of profit-making private medicine, particularly for overseas visitors. Donors in England and Wales may not yet be fully aware that, even within the NHS, their blood and products made from their plasma are already sold for cash by the NBTS.

Most donors, as you say, recognise the long-term advantages of a system of unequivocally unpaid blood donation, in terms of personal dignity, practical communal insurance, control of costs and, above all - after the tragedy of successive imported virus epidemics - the greater safety of disinterested donations. Donors in this country have never sought to limit the use of their gift - eg, to their family or friends - but they do become more watchful of entrepreneurial possibilities when a price-tag is attached to it.

We must accept repeated assurances by the NBTS that no charge is made for the blood itself - although the last time our association asked, the NBTS saw no merit in independent audit of that claim.

You suggest that the transfusion service may be able to make a direct or indirect profit on 'services' under a large contract for foreign patients. Why do you assume that donors would be happy to be 'earning money for the NHS'? In the present financial climate, it is only a short step from that to the imposition of targets for foreign sales, with matching cuts in Department of Health funding. It is also one of the arguments used to justify two-tier accommodation and treatment in NHS hospitals. Donors are benevolent but not necessarily nave.

If there are surplus blood products, the country's 2 million donors have surely earned a share in determining how products or cash proceeds are distributed. We do not seek payment, but there may be other deserving outlets for any surplus from our gift. In the course of such respectful consultation with its partners, the blood donors, the NBTS might also tell us how a surplus is defined and why there must be one.

Yours sincerely,

JIM SMITH

Secretary

National Association of

Blood Donors

Headington, Oxford

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