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24 July 2019

Behind the scenes: How your gift is used


Every single day, the medical team from the Main Recovery Unit at the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh (RIE) see the difference your blood donations make to patients.

With twenty four theatres and four recovery rooms along one very long corridor (known as the Royal Mile), at any given time team members could be delivering babies, re-setting broken bones, performing liver transplants or undertaking emergency operations. While it’s important to remember blood will only be transfused if absolutely necessary, anyone undergoing surgery could potentially need this life-saving treatment.

Lydia Howells, Deputy Charge Nurse, describes a landmark moment from early in her career.

'The first time I saw a patient deteriorating due to rapid blood loss it was amazing to see each member of the hospital team jump into their individual roles to save that person's life. Components from donated blood play a vital role in these situations, allowing time to fix the problem, keeping the patient stable and helping save lives.'


Stack of blood transition bags.
Each transportation bag can contain up to five units of blood. After the contents are used, the bags are placed outside recovery for collection.

This week, 453 units of blood were used for patients - equivalent to the total blood volume of 45 people. Liver transplants used the greatest volume of blood, at 211 units, with the 134 units used for emergency and trauma surgeries not far behind. Obstetrics (surgery associated with childbirth and midwifery) needed 188 units this week to support mums and babies in the Edinburgh hospital.

Lydia said:

'The first thing the team see when they come onto the ward for their shift is the transportation bags that have been used the night before. It serves as a visual reminder of what we achieve in the NHS and the vital role blood donors play in our everyday working lives, making sure we can deliver effective patient care.'

Lorna Thomson, Transplant Theatre Practitioner at RIE, said:

'It's difficult to put into words the importance blood donations have. Knowing we have type specific blood 'on tap' makes our job so much easier. I genuinely couldn't do my job safely or effectively without blood donors, so thank you seems inadequate. Each time I look after a liver transplant patient, the blood and blood products we give can literally mean the difference between life and death.'

Group photo of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary team dressed in scrubs and Give Blood t-shirts.
Some of the wonderful team showing their support!

Indeed, the teams are partial to a teacake or two themselves. Proud members of the Edinburgh workplace donation programme, the recovery team regularly give up their free time to give blood. In fact, Lydia and Lorna recently attended the Edinburgh Donor Awards ceremony as guest speakers, giving a behind the scenes presentation which was fascinating for donors and staff alike.

Lydia said: 'We just wanted to say thank you. Knowing your donation is there to be used if necessary is vital when looking after post surgical patients.' 

Current blood stock levels across Scotland Friday 17 September

We aim to retain 6 days of stocks at any time in order to meet the requirements of patients in Scotland.

Learn more about blood types