Blood services step up efforts to recruit younger nurses

Services across the UK are targeting graduates and say any vacancies are serious

Services across the UK are targeting graduates and say any vacancies are serious

  • Blood services stress the variety of roles they offer general nurses
  • They want to change a perception that blood services are for older nurses
  • Role includes caring for donors, collecting platelets and plasma, and stem cell extraction

Picture: iStock

Nurses are being urged to consider a career in a blood service as donation bodies across the UK seek to challenge stereotypes and boost recruitment.

The blood services are among those areas of the profession affected by vacancies, but officials say any staffing gap in the blood service is serious due to the role that nurses play.


the number of units of blood that need to be collected every day in England to meet demand

Source: NHS Blood and Transplant

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), which collects and supplies blood in England, says nurse shortages are particularly being felt in areas where there is high demand, such as London.

Urgent need

The service in England employs 717 nurses, and has 25 vacancies.

Its counterpart north of the border, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), says it has particular regions where gaps need filling urgently.

SNBTS associate director of donor and transport services Lynne Willdigg says the rising age of the nursing workforce is a concern.

‘We face the same scourge of social demographics that other areas face, due to issues like retirement,’ she says.

‘Without nursing staff we wouldn’t be able to run our service’

Lynne Willdigg, SNBTS associate director of donor and transport services

‘We do really need to recruit more nurses, especially in the north east of Scotland, where it has been a long-running problem for us.

‘Without nursing staff we wouldn’t be able to run our service.’

In their recruitment drives the blood services are focusing on the variety of roles available to general nurses in their organisations.

These include assessing and advising donors, caring for donors during and after donation, collecting platelets and plasma, stem cell extraction, blood transfusion, home immunotherapy, education and governance.

Targeting graduates


The number of blood types

SNBTS has just over 400 nursing posts, which translates to about 280 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions.

The Scottish service’s head of nursing Anne-Marie Carr says SNBTS is working with nursing educators to raise the awareness among graduating nurses of the opportunities in blood donation and other areas of the service.

‘SNBTS is a great place to work. We have really good feedback from our nurses, and we also support flexible employment,’ she says.

The Welsh Blood Service (WBS), which employs 32 nurses, says it achieved success with a similar scheme a few years ago.

WBS clinical services training manager Ann Richards says when the service had problems with nursing vacancies it raised its profile among graduates by attending universities and job fairs.

Ms Richards says an important part of that campaign was changing the perception that working for a blood service was a role for older nurses.

‘There was a perception that the blood service was for more mature nurses who wanted to take a step back from full-time work,’ she says.

The engagement campaign has proved worthwhile, and the WBS now has an average of 20 applicants per role, she says, while before the campaign it received only about three.

What it’s like to work for a blood service

Ebony Dunkley: Blood service
is  ‘incredibly rewarding’.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) senior sister Ebony Dunkley has worked with the blood service for just over three years, and says she was inspired to join because she wanted a new challenge.

‘It’s a really good organisation and l learn so much,’ she says. ‘Working with healthy people, helping people through donating blood is incredibly rewarding.’

She says her perspective on the use of blood in healthcare changed drastically after getting to know the intricacies of the blood donation process.

‘(As a nurse) you know these blood products because in an emergency you run down to the blood bank to get them,’ she says.

‘But you don’t think about the whole process behind that because you don’t need to.’ 

Ms Dunkley has worked at a Nottingham donor centre but is now focused on encouraging more African-Caribbean people to donate blood to help those with sickle cell anaemia.

She also encourages nurses to give blood if they are eligible. ‘I know it’s hard, with long 12-hour shifts you don’t want to sacrifice your days off, but more than anyone we understand the need for blood because we see it.’

Small team

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) employs a comparatively small number of nurses, with a total of  9.4 FTE posts. It is looking to recruit three more.

Its chief nurse Patricia Mackey says the small size of the team means the loss of any individual nurse is magnified compared with a larger organisation.

‘When any nurse leaves the service we are significantly negatively affected by the loss of organisational knowledge, as well as the loss of the individual,’ she says.

Interacting with donors

Ms Richards says there is one aspect of the job that differs from nursing in general: ‘You are working with healthy individuals, which is unusual in nursing.’

‘You are working with healthy individuals, which is unusual in nursing’

Ann Richards, clinical services training manager, Welsh Blood Service

Interacting with donors and learning what inspired them to donate is another interesting and sometimes emotionally charged aspect of the role, she says.

7% to 8%

of the population has the universal blood type O negative, which can be given to anyone

‘Only 5% of people in Wales donate blood, but 100% might need it,’ she says. ‘We have to treat our donors really well, because they are so special.’

Ms Richards admits she was ignorant about much of the work of the blood service, even when she worked as a haematinic nurse treating people with leukaemia.

‘I never once considered where that blood came from, and I am embarrassed about that now,’ she says. ‘Now I realise how precious that blood is. Consider where the blood you use comes from.’

While she notes that ‘blood donation is not for everyone, and we would never wish to pressurise someone into donating,’ Ms Richards urges nurses to become ‘blood ambassadors’ – not only donating themselves if they are eligible, but promoting blood donation to others.

'Nurses mainly deal with the unwell, but these patients have families, friends and loved ones who might be able to donate,’ she says.

Student encourages nurses to donate

England currently has a shortage of O negative and B negative blood, with supplies in late July sufficient for only three to four days. NHSBT usually aims to have at least six days’ supply for each blood group.

Rachael Palmer: ‘Only around 4%
of eligible donors give blood.’

University of Plymouth nursing student Rachael Palmer is encouraging nurses to roll up their sleeves:

‘It's such an amazing thing to do, and takes just an hour out of your day. The donation teams are lovely and aim to make the experience as smooth as possible. If you follow their advice, you can carry on with the rest of your day as normal, having done something incredible.

‘I was inspired by dad’s selflessness’

‘My two younger sisters and I used to take it in turns to go with my dad to his blood donations in our village. We used to fight over who would go because we found it so fascinating, and the idea of being able to even save lives simply amazing – not to mention the possibility of a biscuit or two.

‘My dad donates regularly and is close to donation number 60. So when I turned 17 it was a no-brainer to register myself, because I was inspired by his selflessness and how important it is to him, especially as we are both B negative, which makes up just 2% of the population.

‘I go as regularly as I can, which is every four months for a female.

‘Blood and transplant relies on the generosity of others’

‘Recently someone close to me had two pints transfused postoperatively in an emergency situation and then two days later I was sat giving blood and got really emotional because if it wasn’t for the people donating they might have died.

‘Only around 4% of eligible donors give blood, so it is a precious commodity. I have an interest in oncology and haematology and would love to work in that area when I qualify.

‘When a patient of mine has a blood transfusion, I will think about the person who took the time to donate. As nurses, we have a special insight into the health service and know that blood and transplant relies on the generosity of others.’

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