Letter: No profit from blood money

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Sir: Your recent coverage of the sale of blood products to Turkey may have left some confusion in readers' minds. First, it is important to distinguish between blood and its major component - red cells, platelets, and plasma. Hospitals pay only a handling charge for the red cells and platelets needed for transfusions. This charge covers the cost of collecting, testing, processing and delivering and no profit is involved. In order to meet the rising demand for red cells - currently increasing by 4 per cent a year - the National Blood Service sometimes produces a surplus of plasma.

Plasma is frozen and most is sent to the Bio Products Laboratory (BPL) to be made into a range of blood products, including Factor VIII for haemophiliacs. These products are licensed pharmaceuticals and sold in competitive markets. BPL offers surplus blood products for sale abroad only if they are genuinely surplus to the needs of patients in the UK. BPL pays a share of the costs referred to above and sets its prices at a level to recover these and other costs. It does not make a profit. The money from these sales is reinvested in the service and benefits patients in this country. The National Blood Service never collects blood in order to create a surplus.

The alternative to selling the surplus products is to burn them. Although the idea of giving them away free to countries that need them sounds attractive, it is not always viable. When efforts have been made to do this by other organisations it has not proved possible to ensure that the products reached the patients for whom they were intended.

The National Blood Service has asked donors about this issue in the past and they have generally agreed that it would be preferable to sell the products and reinvest the proceeds in the service rather than to burn them. A further survey is soon to be conducted.

Yours sincerely,

John Adey

Chief Executive

National Blood Service

Watford, Hertfordshire