Meeting date: Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Meeting of the Parliament 12 January 2022
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health and Wellbeing (Primary Care), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service
- Portfolio Question Time
- Mental Health and Wellbeing (Primary Care)
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service
Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-02635, in the name of Fulton MacGregor, on the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises the work of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS); understands that the SNBTS, which had its beginnings in the 1930s, is the specialist provider of safe high quality blood, tissues and cells products and services in Scotland; notes that its cornerstone policy is to ensure that NHS Scotland has enough blood to meet the transfusion needs of patients in Scotland; praises the SNBTS for what it considers diligent work during the COVID-19 pandemic in continuing to provide a lifesaving service, despite the hardships brought on by the pandemic; notes with concern reports that Scotland has fewer registered blood donors than at any other point this century, with the number of people donating blood supplies having dropped by 13,000 over the past year; believes that estimates suggest SNBTS would need to welcome 3,300 donors per week to ensure that blood supplies remain at safe levels; supports the SNBTS Amazing Stories campaign, which highlighted personal stories of those who have received lifesaving blood donations, and notes, therefore, the calls encouraging people across the country, including in Coatbridge and Chryston, to sign up to become blood donors if they are able.17:22
It is a great privilege to lead this debate on the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. As with so many scientific breakthroughs, it was in Scotland that the first successful blood transfusion was carried out, by James Blundell in the early 19th century. A century later, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service was created. Since its establishment, the service’s diligent and vital work has saved countless lives. Indeed, the SNBTS helps to procure not only blood but life-saving platelets and plasma.
I hope to achieve two main things in my contribution today: first, to highlight the phenomenal work of the service, in particular over the past two years; and secondly, to focus on Scotland’s need for more blood donors as a matter of some urgency. I put on record my thanks to Julie Bonner from the service for her excellent briefing ahead of the debate.
I am a fairly regular blood donor. My next donation, which is due in February, will be my 18th in total, and I hope to achieve my 20th donation at some point this year. It was donating blood and talking with the service’s ever-friendly team, and hearing about the current plight in relation to active blood donors, that inspired me to lodge the motion for debate. By complete coincidence, the mobile blood donation unit is in Coatbridge today, at the Old Monkland community centre, so if anyone local is able to attend, please consider booking an appointment. I give my thanks to North Lanarkshire Council for continuing to find venues to enable blood donation to happen.
Throughout the past two years, and well before that, the team at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service have worked tirelessly, day in, day out, to ensure that our national health service has an appropriate level of stock. The service continued throughout the pandemic and, in general, staff were not redeployed to other roles—something that the public does not always know. The team are now tired, as are those in all sectors, given staff absences and isolation, and I hope that they will be supported by the Government as we move forward. I feel that, in some ways, they are often the forgotten arm of our health response to the pandemic, and it is vital that the Parliament recognises and commends each and every one of them for their dedication and their sacrifices.
Members should be in no doubt that the SNBTS is vital, because, without blood supplies, so many essential life-enhancing and life-saving operations and procedures would simply not be possible. However, as a result of the situation over the past two years, Scottish hospitals are currently supplied by the smallest pool of blood donors this century. During 2020, the number of active blood donors in Scotland fell from more than 105,000 to fewer than 92,000. That is likely a result of people leaving their houses less often during restrictions; being worried about catching the virus or perhaps being unwell; or not being aware that they could give blood during that period. There was a real-terms reduction of nearly 13 per cent, which means that 13,000 fewer people gave blood in a single year. Although the donor base has started to rebuild in 2021, and Scotland now has 96,000 active blood donors, it is still well below pre-pandemic levels.
There is a varied picture across the country. For example, the statistics for Coatbridge suggest that there were 534 active donors in 2019 and 409 in 2020. At the current count in 2021, there were 364, so there has not been an increase in my local area. There is a 61 per cent to 39 per cent split between female and male donors, which is perhaps somewhat surprising, as men are less likely to have low iron levels and can donate every 12 weeks as opposed to every 16 weeks for women. I make a personal plea: come on, Coatbridge and Chryston, and come on, men—let us do this.
If people need even more reason to give blood, research suggests that it can be beneficial for the health and wellbeing of donors, too. I join the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service in calling for more people to come forward and give blood. Whether you have never given blood before or have not done so for a while, please come forward, especially now, as we are at the height of winter. Some people are not able to give blood—for example, if they have had a blood transfusion previously—so please check your eligibility before booking. Do not worry, however, as you will be given a health check before donating, during which your iron levels, among other things, will be checked. You will never continue through to donation if there is any identifiable risk to you—it is a thorough process.
People can find more information, including on Covid-19 safety protocols and how and where to donate, on the website www.scotblood.co.uk. They can also set up an account on the site and use it to change, make or cancel appointments at donor centres and at community day sessions. There are eight different blood groups, and the service aims to retain a five-to-seven-day supply of all eight groups at all times. That means that your blood will always be needed, whether you have a rare or a common type, so please do not worry about that—you will be welcomed with open arms. Rare types are needed because they are rare, but common types are needed because they are common, so everybody’s blood is needed.
There are three different types of donations: whole blood, which is the most common type; plasma, which was recently reintroduced after an extensive ban; and platelets. At my most recent appointment in November, I spoke to members of the team about platelets, and I am considering that for the future.
In order to inspire donations, the National Blood Transfusion Service has an amazing stories initiative, in which recipients of blood tell of the huge impact that donation has had on their lives. Earlier this week, when the debate was confirmed, I put out a call on my Facebook page asking constituents who had received blood and wanted to share their story to get in touch. I thank all those who took the opportunity to email me their stories, and I will share two of them just now.
Jane from Gartcosh said:
“I had an emergency section when I had my now seven-year-old. I lost a lot of blood after a delivery, which then resulted in needing a transfusion. Before I had the transfusion I was unable to even stand on my own, never mind look after a newborn. After I had the transfusion, I was kicking my height—massive over-exaggeration there, but it made a huge difference to me. The only downside is I can’t donate.”
Debbie, who is not actually a constituent of mine but works locally and therefore saw my post, said:
“Following a pulmonary embolism”—
this is a lengthy quote, Presiding Officer—
“I was put on blood thinners and very steadily started losing blood. In August, this came to a head. After suffering from endometriosis erupting as a result of the blood lost gathering in my uterus, I became very, very unwell. My family were extremely concerned and phoned an ambulance. At this stage, I was so weak I could barely stand. My heart rate was high and I was struggling to breathe. As soon as I was admitted, doctors were concerned and moved very quickly. My blood count had dropped from 115 to 65 within a week. I was told 55 can mean heart failure. I had at most two days left before things were critical. I received two units of blood and one unit of iron. Without the transfusion, I would very likely have died. I have been back to work full time since September. This is the first time I’ve been able to work consistently since contracting Covid pneumonia, and the subsequent pulmonary embolism, since December 2020. The blood transfusion saved my life. I am feeling the most well I have for a year and I’m so thankful that someone donated the blood to save me.”
What more can we all do? MSPs and other elected members can promote the service’s work and share social media posts, particularly when we have mobile units in our areas. We should always promote the pre-booked appointments, as the system works well and avoids the queues that there used to be, as people will remember.
Businesses, public sector bodies and all other employers should allow staff time off during their working day to donate locally. They should incorporate that as part of their social responsibility initiatives or whatever they have in place. I will certainly write to local organisations in Coatbridge and Chryston about that.
I ask local authorities to continue to make venues available. The service has notified me that it has experienced increased difficulty in getting access to the usual venues since the pandemic. That might be due to those places being used for vaccination or testing clinics or to changes in staffing. Whatever the case, I ask local authorities to treat giving blood with the same urgency and to make venues available so that people can donate locally.
I, again, put on record my heartfelt thanks to the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service for its work. I also reiterate the plea for anyone who can to consider donating blood. Over the past two years, we have learned how to respond to a health crisis with great dedication and a community spirit. I ask people to consider giving blood even once or twice a year in the same way. Like what we have done over the past two years, it really could save a life.
Thank you for the reminder, Mr MacGregor. Although I cannot donate in Orkney because the mobile unit does not visit there, I need to get back to donating in Edinburgh. I commit here and now to making an appointment later this week or next week. There is no pressure on anybody else who participates in the debate.
I call Edward Mountain, who joins us remotely.17:31
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I look forward to you notifying members when you have given blood, because that is the proof of the pudding and the need is for people to do it.
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing the debate, which is important. I also congratulate him on his donations to date. I look forward to seeing him wearing the much-cherished silver 25-donation badge and perhaps go on to get the gold badge and emerald badge, which we should all aspire to do if we can.
It is right that we celebrate and recognise the pioneering efforts of the people who established the means of blood transfusion, which has gone on to save countless lives. As Fulton MacGregor said, the first successful human blood transfusion took place in Edinburgh in, I think, 1818. The first blood transfusion service was also established in Edinburgh in 1930. I struggle to imagine what it was like in those early transfusion days, when I suspect that there was no comfy bed or tea and biscuits afterwards. Let us be honest: I also suspect that the extraction methods could be described—[Inaudible.]—than the wee scratch, or whatever the current euphemism is, that we are told it is today.
In the early days, the service relied on an emergency panel of donors who came forward at times of a particular patient’s need. That is not dissimilar to how I gave my first donation. As a soldier, I was ordered to attend a donation event. That great, if perhaps illegal, order led me to become a donor for as long as I am medically fit. Clearly, the service was nothing like it is today, with volunteer donations of blood being provided regularly at transfusion centres and mobile units throughout Scotland.
As the medical service progressed and operations became more complex, there was a need for far more national co-ordination across the United Kingdom. That co-operation by all four nations of the United Kingdom remains critical. At the time of devolution, the UK blood transfusion forum was established. It establishes a unity of purpose across the four nations, and it recognises that it is vital for all UK nations to ensure a good quality of supply and that the blood supplies are safe and available for all.
This country has a proud story to tell when it comes to developing blood transfusion services. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the number of blood donations in Scotland has fallen to the lowest level at any point this century. As Fulton MacGregor said, we should never forget that many patients owe their lives to the people who donate blood, but there were 13,000 fewer donations last year.
I also believe that blood supplies have dropped significantly. There is only six days’ supply of the rarest blood—[Inaudible.]—which is of concern, as that is the absolute minimum that is required to meet patient needs across Scotland.
As Fulton MacGregor said, we need to encourage more donations. It is a simple and painless process. Indeed, it is also therapeutic, because when we give blood, we are giving someone else life that, without that blood, they would be denied. In the 20 minutes that it takes to donate, we are giving a gift that is beyond monetary value. It is perhaps one of the most generous gifts that we can give in our lives.
Giving blood is a very simple act of generosity that can truly save lives. As that generosity is needed now more than ever, I whole-heartedly support the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service’s appeal for more donors to come forward, and I encourage everyone who can do so to give blood. Who knows? Our own lives might one day rely on the gift of blood that a donor has generously given.
Thank you very much, Mr Mountain. I look forward to welcoming you back to Parliament in person so that we can compare our silver 25-donation badges over tea and biscuits.17:36
I am pleased to participate in this members’ business debate on the work of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and I thank Fulton MacGregor for bringing this important matter to the chamber.
Blood plays an absolutely crucial role in saving the lives of those patients in our NHS who require it. To be blunt, I would say that, without the SNBTS and its donors, we would not have the NHS that we are so proud of today, and I commend and thank all the staff at the service and indeed all NHS staff across Scotland for their continued efforts throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The motion highlights an incredibly concerning reality. The number of people giving blood has dropped dramatically over the past year, and we need to do all that we can to encourage people to give blood when and where they are able to do so. In that respect, I am delighted to hear your pledge, Presiding Officer. I have given blood on a number of occasions in Aberdeen—indeed, I think that I have donated more than 46 pints of blood. As I have continued to do so over the pandemic, I can assure everyone who might be listening that all precautions have been put in place. I therefore ask anyone who can to go and give blood.
It is interesting to find out what happens to blood after it leaves our arms and where it goes on its journey to saving someone’s life. After blood leaves an arm and goes into the bag, it is taken to a nearby processing and testing laboratory, where it is separated into three components: red blood cells, platelets and plasma. It is then tested for viruses, and if it passes all those tests, it is labelled and sent to one of the country’s 39 blood banks. Not one drop is wasted. Even when a session has had to be stopped because of slow-running blood and a full pint has not been obtained, that blood is not wasted and is used for testing instead. That has happened to me on a number of occasions, and over the years I have learned the tricks of the trade to get my donation flowing freely such as drinking lots of water, crossing and uncrossing legs and wiggling toes and fingers.
I have been very privileged to be able to take part in SNBTS’s awards ceremonies, which normally take place every year in the Beach ballroom in Aberdeen. The service is very aware of and thankful for their donors’ contributions, and donors with 50-plus donations are invited along to those evenings to receive a small gift and to give the service the chance to thank them once again. As a former depute provost and councillor, I was proud to be able to present some of those awards. The donors do not think that it is a big deal to give up their precious time and blood. They do not see it as doing anything special, but we all know differently. I therefore take this opportunity to once again thank all the donors.
I say to anyone who is able, please give blood. If I can do it, anyone can. I am a feartie when it comes to needles, and it disnae help that I have only one vein that I can manage to gie blood fae. The SNBTS folk in Aberdeen are brilliant: they find that vein every time. People truly are in safe hands with all the teams at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. I say to everyone: you can save a life today—please give blood if you can.
Ms Dunbar, I wish you well in pursuit of your gold medal.17:40
I think Fulton MacGregor for bringing this important debate to the chamber and I join him and colleagues in thanking everyone who works in the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, particularly in these unprecedented times.
It is incredibly inspiring to hear of the many thousands of people who take the time to give blood every year. I say to everyone who gives blood across Scotland that what they do truly transforms lives. We are immensely grateful for their efforts.
The online page for the SNBTS amazing stories campaign gives an insight into the positive impact that donating blood can have, but I want to draw members’ attention to a story I read in my local paper about Freya Pennington from Giffnock, which is in my region. Freya, who is seven years old, attends Braidbar primary school and was diagnosed with leukaemia. She had 14 blood transfusions over the course of last year. Her mother Louise spoke of the moment when she realised the importance of donating blood, saying that she had an “overwhelming sense of gratitude” for those who did that. She added:
“If you are on the fence about it, or it’s something you have never thought about, please consider it, as it is so worthwhile.”
Stories like that can make all the difference and it is important that we share them in our constituencies and regions to encourage more people to come forward and give blood.
The SNBTS said last month that there has been a 13 per cent reduction in the number of people donating blood, equating to 13,000 fewer people giving blood in a single year. Colleagues have spoken about the need to do more to bring forward new donors. I am glad that pleas for people to step forward and donate blood are receiving widespread coverage and hope that we will begin to see an increase in the number of people doing so.
Important steps have been taken to widen the eligibility to donate blood. There have been considerable and historic steps forward in the past year following the publication of the evidence-based review by the UK-wide FAIR—for assessment of individualised risk—steering group. I was delighted, and felt quite emotional, to see the group’s recommendation to remove the three-month ban on donations from men who have had sex with men.
Those recommendations were accepted in December 2020. Their implementation in June last year meant that that was the first time since the early 1980s that many gay and bisexual men would no longer be judged against in the blood donation criteria because of who they are. The outdated rules, which reinforced stigma and were inconsistent with safer sex messages, have been consigned to the dustbin of history. It is thanks to the continued efforts of many individuals, and of groups such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and the Equality Network—whose development manager, Scott Cuthbertson, has campaigned on the issue for 15 years—that we are finally able to take this progressive step forward here in Scotland.
I confess that, like many other gay men, I have not given blood since I was in my early teens. I intend to return to giving blood in my community. I am reliably informed that a Tunnock’s tea cake and a cup of tea are still available after donation. Perhaps Fulton MacGregor, Jackie Dunbar and others can assure me of that.
In conclusion, I echo what we have heard from colleagues tonight. I urge everyone in our county to take the time, if they can, to give blood, and think about the difference that doing so makes to the lives of people in our communities. I call on our local authorities to continue to ensure that there is provision of spaces and sites where people can attend mobile blood donation centres.
We have taken huge steps forward, and there should not be barriers to giving blood when it is safe to do so. I would like to see far more people come forward and take the time to save a life, because that is exactly what they would be doing.
Thank you, Mr O’Kane. I assure you that you are not alone in having been lured in by the prospect of chocolate biscuits.17:45
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this important debate, and I thank my colleague Fulton MacGregor for bringing it to the chamber.
Giving blood means giving the ultimate gift. It does not cost the donor anything—just a short time out of their day—to give someone the chance of life, or a better life.
The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service is a credit to our nation. It has been providing safe high-quality blood, tissues and cell products since the 1930s. That is quite a pedigree. If we are ever in need of blood—whether through illness or an accident, whether for ourselves or for our children—we assume that it will always be there, and thanks to thousands of donors, it is. However, during the surreal time that we are living through, with Covid dominating our lives and the NHS, it is more important than ever that there are enough supplies.
Today’s debate is important, because it might reach out to people who have always meant to donate blood—I include myself in that category. Sadly, as Fulton MacGregor articulated in his motion, there is concern that
“Scotland has fewer registered blood donors than at any other point this century”.
Over the past year, the number of people donating blood supplies has dropped by 13,000, and estimates suggest that the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service needs another 3,300 donors per week to ensure that blood supplies remain at safe levels.
In 2016, I held a members’ business debate in the chamber, and I had a resolution passed at our party’s conference on the subject that Paul O’Kane has just excellently articulated: men who have sex with men being treated equally in regard to blood donations. At that time, a man who had had sex with another man in the previous 12 months could not give blood, albeit that they were in a monogamous relationship. Clearly, those rules were archaic and made no reference to someone’s personal risk of, for example, being a carrier of HIV, and a promiscuous straight person would be able to donate blood freely. Shockingly, if a same sex couple’s child ever needed a blood transfusion, and they were a match, they would not be allowed to save their own child’s life.
Thankfully, that inequality has now changed. In June last year, on world blood donor day, new legislation came into effect across Scotland, England and Wales, which means that donors’ eligibility is assessed on a person-by-person basis, rather than by the application of across-the-board restrictions. Gay men, who, for years, had suffered such discrimination, could safely and happily give much needed blood.
As many across the chamber have said, a person just never knows when they will need a blood donation. Many new mums owe their life, or their baby’s life—as we heard from Fulton MacGregor—to someone taking the short time to give a pint of blood. What could be more rewarding than being responsible for enabling that?
As the saying goes, not all heroes wear capes. They simply decide to donate a pint of blood and become a lifesaver, and a special thank you must go to the hard-working staff who enable that to happen.
I say to people: please, if you have one new year’s resolution to make that will really make a difference, please consider giving blood. It is painless, quick and easy, I am told. Visit the SNBTS website to find out how you can donate and where your nearest centre is, and make that positive step—a step that is needed today, as we battle our way through this pandemic, more than ever.17:49
I thank Fulton MacGregor for securing the debate. For many years, I was an orthopaedic registrar. I operated on a lot of people, fixing their broken bones. I will tell members about one of my patients. I was fixing their hip, something that I had done many times, which was normally quite straightforward. However, no surgery is without its risks. Halfway through, I realised that I could not see anything, because my visor was covered in blood. When I took it off, I realised that I still could not see anything, because the wound was covered in blood. My patient was bleeding quite profusely. We eventually got it under control and finished the operation, and my patient got the blood that they needed via transfusion. They survived, had a new hip and were absolutely fine. Now imagine if we did not have that blood donated by a kind citizen.
Eight years ago, I was so excited to see my son get born that we went to hospital bouncing—well, I did, at least; my wife could not bounce at the time. Things went wrong. My wife suffered a massive bleed. I was left holding my son, surrounded by a room covered in so much of my wife’s blood that it made my previous story look like it was not a patch on it. Luckily, my wife survived. She was given blood and she is absolutely fine, but imagine if we did not have that blood donated by a kind citizen.
Anyone who drives, walks, cycles or plays in the snow never knows whether they will be the person who needs a blood transfusion. Numbers of donors have plummeted during Covid, as expected, but I urge everyone to think about all those people who have accidents, surgery or cancer and all who need blood transfusions. They might be your loved ones, relatives and friends. Part of being a citizen is to help our fellows. Donating blood is easy. It involves a simple and small—I promise that it is small—needle in the arm, and a cup of tea and a biscuit. That was the case pre-Covid and I am hearing that it is currently the case, which is wonderful. Most importantly—
The Tunnock’s tea cakes are still available, but tea and coffee no longer are; it is just a drink of juice from a carton.
Well, a cup of juice will be good, although a cup of tea was lovely afterwards.
Most importantly, the person who is donating blood will have the feeling that they have helped a stranger in need. That is one of the greatest things that anyone can do.
I call the minister to respond to the debate for around seven minutes.17:51
What a lovely celebratory debate, in which there is consensus across the chamber and we recognise the importance of a service that runs really well in our community, thank everyone and encourage more people to come forward and donate blood.
I thank Fulton MacGregor for bringing the motion to the chamber and all members for their contributions. I particularly want to thank all the blood donors for continuing to come forward in spite of the on-going pandemic. Blood donors are vital to keeping our NHS going and they are saving lives across Scotland, as we have heard through the stories that folk have told in the debate.
Throughout the pandemic, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service has continued to provide enough blood to meet the needs of NHS Scotland, but demand for blood fluctuates and the changes that are needed to keep blood donation safe during the pandemic have at times made it more challenging for SNBTS to collect enough blood. Therefore, I welcome Fulton MacGregor’s calls for people who can donate blood to do so.
I also take the opportunity to reiterate Fulton’s MacGregor’s thanks to all the staff at SNBTS for the work that they do to make sure that there are enough blood supplies. They work incredibly hard to ensure that the blood that they supply is safe for transfusion recipients. SNBTS has plans in place to ensure that there are sufficient donors and it had a brilliant response from the people of Scotland to its recent radio, TV and media campaigns. The SNBTS amazing stories campaign highlighted personal stories of people who have received life-saving blood donations. The campaign led to more than 1,000 people logging into the online booking system on the campaign launch day. That is a success.
Thousands of existing donors with specific blood groups have been contacted, asking them to make an extra special effort to donate and that work will continue. SNBTS has also opened a new donor centre in Livingston shopping centre, which has proved popular with donors. Community groups are also being very supportive and I give specific thanks to Livingston Football Club and Heart of Midlothian Football Club, as well as the many workplaces throughout Scotland that have encouraged their employees to donate. I sense that we might be able to co-ordinate something in the Parliament, as well.
Generally, SNBTS has always maintained supplies successfully, but it has become more challenging given the on-going coronavirus restrictions. Unfortunately, as has already been noted in the debate, we have seen a decrease in the number of people donating blood during the pandemic. As Fulton MacGregor said, the number of active blood donors in Scotland fell from more than 105,000 in 2019-20 to around 92,000 in 2020-21. At the same time, on average, the demand for blood has also increased by about 5 per cent against pre-pandemic levels.
Recently, the number of donors has started to increase again and blood stock levels right now are good. I hope that that will continue. We all have a part to play. As Sandesh Gulhane’s story illustrated, all members are acutely aware of the pent-up demand for elective surgery in our NHS. As the NHS recovers, the need for blood donations will increase.
In the past 12 months, SNBTS has welcomed more than 12,000 new donors. That is great, but it would love to welcome more. I can reassure people that SNBTS has triage, hygiene and physical distancing measures in place to ensure the safety of donors at its collection venues. Yes, juice and biscuits are provided at the end—but sadly no cups of tea at the moment.
Finally, I would also like to extend thanks to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, councils and other venue providers for their commitment to working with SNBTS to provide suitable community blood collection venues in spite of difficulties associated with the pandemic and the competition for such spaces—many of the spaces that are usually used for blood donation are being used as vaccination centres.
In addition to blood donation, SNBTS delivers a wide range of other vital services, including living and deceased tissue donation and important research on regenerative medicine.
Last year, we received updated advice from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Commission on Human Medicines that it is now sufficiently safe to use UK plasma to produce immunoglobulin medicines, so SNBTS is also now collecting plasma from some of our amazing donors. Immunoglobulins are often life-saving medicines, particularly for patients with primary immunodeficiencies. Although collection levels are currently low, SNBTS is working on proposals to allow us to consider increasing these plasma collections in the coming years.
SNBTS has also played an important role in supporting Scotland’s response to coronavirus. Back in 2020, it provided support with coronavirus testing. More recently, SNBTS has developed a new T-cell therapy for patients with Covid-19, which is being trialled. Last but by no means least, it has also provided vaccine storage facilities and distribution for NHS Scotland.
I will pull out just one point from the debate—although there were many good points. Paul O’Kane and Rona Mackay talked about the increase in eligibility for donation, which is very important. It overturns a long-standing discrimination and stigma. I, too, am delighted about it. I have many friends who are now able to donate. It is a delight for them to be able to participate in this altruistic activity that saves lives. Every time a person donates, they can save not just one life but potentially up to three. It is a phenomenal thing to be able to do and I am glad that more people are able to do it.
SNBTS provides a wide range of important services to support patients across Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care visited the SNBTS headquarters at the Jack Copland centre in October to meet staff and I know that he was impressed by the range of work that they do.
I will take the liberty of making a personal comment. I want to thank SNBTS personally. I am one of many people in Scotland who have haemochromatosis—it is a common disorder—a genetic disease that is very common among Scots and Irish people. I build up too much iron in my blood. SNBTS makes it possible for me to manage that condition in way that does not interfere with my work. I can pedal from here to the donor centre after work, give a pint of blood, and manage my condition. I am very grateful for that. I know that it is not the answer for everyone, but it is an answer for me.
I am grateful, both personally and as a minister, for all the hard work. I thank the thousands of people who give up their time to donate blood, as well as the millions of Scots who have signed up to donate tissue and organs after they die on the organ donor register. Those crucial services could not operate without the wonderful gift from the donors. I encourage anyone who is eligible to give blood. Find out more by going on the SNBTS website at scotblood.co.uk or by calling 0345 90 90 999.Meeting closed at 18:00.
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