NHS urges donors to switch from giving blood to platelets for Childhood Cancer Awareness month

2 September 2021

Donors are being urged to make the switch from whole blood to platelets this Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, as a new campaign by NHS Blood and Transplant throughout September launches to raise awareness of the importance of platelet donation in lifesaving cancer care.

Platelets are cells within the blood that are crucial for patients with blood cancers, such as leukaemia, and a range of illnesses and accidents.

Whole blood donors often graduate into platelets donation, particularly men because of their tendency to have bigger arm veins. Yet there is a lack of knowledge amongst whole blood donors surrounding this type of donation and the patient care it is used for.

Nearly 70% of platelet donations are used to help people with cancer.

The new campaign by NHS Blood and Transplant aims to tackle this gap in knowledge by publishing a series of explainer videos which will show how platelet donation works. These will highlight the benefits and need for platelet donations, to encourage people to have a go at a switch when booking their next appointment.

Evie's story

Evie and her parentsOne platelet donation can help up to twelve children with cancer. Two-year-old Evie Marshall, from Shoreham by the Sea, West Sussex, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma a year ago. Evie had eight rounds of chemotherapy, each time accompanied by nine platelet transfusions, which helped save her life:

Mum Kelly explains: “It’s something we never thought would happen to us – childhood cancer; as a child Evie hasn’t carried the worries that we as parents or her brother Harry have had – it’s been a tough year for us all in different ways.”

“Platelets helped give Evie a fighting chance. Each time she received the transfusions the colour would come back to her face immediately; her energy levels would dramatically increase, and she responded better to treatment.

“We’ll always worry but Evie is at the end of her treatment now and is doing well. As a family we did not realise the importance of this type of donation. People who are donating platelets are making a massive difference and saving lives and we are incredibly grateful.”

Alison's story

AlisonAcross England there are currently 10,400 active platelet donors.

Alison Whitcombe, aged 32, from Nottingham, made the switch from whole blood to platelet donations in 2016.

Alison explains: “I decided to switch to giving platelets because I felt I was in a position to help. As part of my career as nurse I take care of patients with haematological cancers. I’m very aware that each platelets pack has a donor who has generously donated on the other side.”

Alison, who donates at Nottingham Donor Centre, added: “The team at the donor centre are brilliant. They are a nice bunch of people and, having donated a few times now, there is a sense of familiarity.

“Donating is easy. You get a bit of ‘me-time’, some biscuits and drinks throughout. It is a personal choice but for me it was the most rewarding and right switch to make, and I feel amazing knowing that I’m possibly saving the lives of children with cancer.”

About platelet donation

Bev Caldwell, Components Donations Support Manager said: “It is very easy to switch from whole blood to platelet donation. The donation does take longer but it’s a very rewarding way for regular donors to give more often.

“This September we are urging whole blood donors to make the switch and help keep platelet care for cancer and other illnesses going.”

There is a particular need for more platelet donors with A negative, AB negative and A positive blood types. Platelets from donors with these blood types are safe to give to almost everyone, as they meet the needs of the majority of people needing platelet transfusion.

Platelets shelf life lasts only 7 days, and as we get older, we are less able to donate so there is a constant need for more platelet donors.

To register your interest in giving platelets speak to a member of staff at your next donation or please visit our platelet donation website.

Daytime, evening, and weekend appointments are available.