Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the FAQ. We aim to answer a number of the most frequently asked questions here. Should you have any questions which aren't addressed here, or in the section Can I donate?, please feel free to contact us.

What are the most common causes for deferral?

What is the procedure involved in becoming a blood donor?

You can enrol as a blood donor in a number of ways:

Once your personal details have been taken you will be registered on our computer system, PULSE. If you have presented to a donor session a donation may be taken on the 1st visit if you complete the HealthCheck questionnaire and satisfy the relevant donor screening procedure. If you have enrolled on line/via text/by phone, you will be mailed out information regarding details of when and where you can donate. Along with this you will also receive the HealthCheck questionnaire and be asked to complete the relevant sections before coming along to the donation session.

What is involved in the donor HealthCheck questionnaire?

This is a structured questionnaire, which asks important questions about the donor's general health, medication, lifestyle and travel.

These questions are important to ensure that the donation procedure is safe for the donor and that the donation is safe for the recipient of the blood. It also includes a declaration consenting to the donation being tested for certain transfusion transmissible infections.

New donors and donors who haven't given in the last two years (lapsed donors) must complete a personal interview with our Medical Officer or Registered General Nurse on session.

What are donations currently tested for?

All donations are tested for HIV, HCV (Hepatitis C virus) by antibody tests and nucleic acid testing (NAT). Hepatitis B surface antigen, HTLV (Human T-cell Lymphotropic virus) antibodies and syphilis antibodies are also tested for.

Will these tests absolutely exclude infection by these viruses in the donor?

The short answer is no. Infection is screened for by antibody tests and as it takes the body some time (days to weeks depending on the infection) to form antibodies, there will be a time period when the donor could have the infection but not yet have formed detectable antibodies. This is known as the "window period". One way of reducing the window period is to test for direct viral material, called nucleic acid testing. However, in early infection, this test may also be negative.

This is why the donor HealthCheck questionnaire includes important questions on lifestyle, as we cannot rely exclusively on laboratory testing for ensuring the safety of blood.

Where are donation sessions held?

We hold blood donation sessions throughout Northern Ireland in schools, universities, churches and halls, and in some work-places. Donors can also attend our headquarters on the Belfast City Hospital site.

Is there anything in particular I should do before coming to give blood?

Please ensure you take plenty of fluids and have something substantial to eat in the 4 hours prior to donating.

What happens when I arrive at the donation session?

Your details will firstly be taken. You will then be asked to read the Donor Blood Safety information leaflet and complete the donor HealthCheck Questionnaire (if you were invited to donate by mail you should have already completed the 1st 3 sections of the questionnaire). See Q7 above for further information on this.

If you are a new donor, or a returning donor (last donated over 2 years ago), you will also have a brief chat with a nurse or doctor. Provided the information from the questionnaire is satisfactory, your haemoglobin will then be tested. This is done by taking a small sample of blood from your finger. Your donation will then be taken provided your haemoglobin is at least 12.5 g/dl if you are a woman and at least 13.5 g/dl if you are a man.

After donating we will ask you to take a short rest, a drink, and some biscuits.

How much blood will be taken?

About 470ml, which is just under a pint.

How long does it take to donate blood?

The actual collection of blood will take approximately 10 minutes. Please allow about 45 minutes in total for entire visit.

Can I go back to work after donating?

There should be no reason why you can't return to work after donating unless you have a hazardous occupation.

What are the complications of blood donation?

For the vast majority of people, blood donation is a very straightforward and trouble-free experience. However, occasional problems can occur:

What should I do if I develop an infection after I donate?

If you become ill within 14 days after you donate, please inform us.

During normal working hours (Mon-Thurs 8.30am - 8pm and Fri 8.30am - 5pm): Please call our helpline: FREECALL 08085 534 669 for advice.

Outside of normal working hours, including the weekend: Contact the on-call BMS for NIBTS via Belfast City Hospital Switchboard (028 90329241), who will take your details and relay the message to the on-call medical consultant.

How can I contact NIBTS?

If you wish to make a comment or a complaint please click here Contact us (last tab on home page)

You can call us on 02890 321414. We also have a Medical Helpline for donors on FREECALL 08085 534669 (Mon-Thurs 8.30am to 8.15pm and Fri 8.30am to 4.45pm)

Outside of normal working hours, including the weekend: Contact the on-call BMS for NIBTS via Belfast City Hospital Switchboard (028 90329241), who will take your details and relay the message to the on-call medical consultant.

You can also email us:

Can I find further information about NIBTS on social media sites?

Yes, you can follow us on Twitter And on Facebook

How important is blood donation?

Blood donation is vitally important for proper delivery of health care. Blood transfusion is life saving and life enhancing.

The clearest indication for the transfusion of red cells is massive acute blood loss following a traffic accident, trauma or severe obstetric haemorrhage.

Blood transfusion therapy is very important in cancer care and includes the use of specialised blood components such as platelets to treat low platelet counts following chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for the cancer.

Many blood transfusions are given to cover surgical procedures where there is modest blood loss. This enables elderly patients, for example, surgery for cancer, cardiac bypass surgery for correction of coronary artery disease and vascular surgery for repair of aneurysm. The advent of blood transfusion therapy and the ready availability of banked blood have enabled surgical procedures to be adapted and the range of surgical procedures to be extended.

Blood transfusion is vitally important in the care of very premature, severe low birth weight infants and this contributes in no small measure to the improved survival in this patient group.

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