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22 June 2020

Treating sickle cell disorder and thalassemia


We recently had a great question on social media about whether there was anything donors could do to support Black Lives Matter.

At the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, we stand against inequality and injustice. The fact is, by giving blood, as a donor you’re doing your bit to stand with us. There are a number of blood disorders which disproportionately affect Black patients in this country, and as an organisation, we work hard to provide them with the blood transfusions they need - we just don’t talk about it much. So we thought it was time to change that.

Sickle cell disorder and thalassemia

Sickle cell and thalassaemia are serious inherited blood disorders that are passed on from parents to children. They affect haemoglobin, the part of the blood that carries oxygen around the body. People who have these conditions need specialist care throughout their lives.

You're more likely to carry the altered haemoglobin genes if your ancestors came from places where malaria has been common, including:

  • Africa
  • South, East and South East Asia 
  • the Caribbean
  • the Middle East
  • South America
  • the Mediterranean

Sickle cell disorder 

Sickle cell disorder affects people in different ways. Some people:

  • experience attacks of severe pain, 
  • have serious, life-threatening infections or strokes at a young age,
  • are anaemic (which means that their blood has difficulty carrying oxygen).
  • People with sickle cell disorder usually need medicines and vaccinations throughout their lives to keep them well

Find out more about sickle cell disorder 


People with thalassaemia:

  • can be very anaemic,
  • may need regular blood transfusions and
  • may need injections and medicines throughout their lives.

Find out more about thalassemia 

Mum Beth cuddles daughter Evelyn beside a Christmas tree. Both are wearing Give Blood t-shirts.
Beth Lwanda receives regular blood transfusions to treat Sickle Cell Anaemia.

What do we do to help?

  • SNBTS is involved in managing the treatment of haemoglobin disorder patients

Some sickle cell disorder patients’ treatments are best managed through regular blood transfusions, which replace the red cells in their body with those of a disorder-free donor. Throughout Scotland, our patient services teams carry out these treatments in their Clinical Apheresis Units. The Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow teams also carry out emergency red cell exchanges for acutely unwell sickle cell disorder patients. 

Our laboratory teams also carry out red cell gene testing to allow us to provide blood for haemoglobin disorders in patients in Scotland. We are also working with our counterparts in the English blood transfusion service (NHSBT) to share information on patients with known haemoglobin disorders that later move to Scotland. 


  • We’re working with haemoglobin disorder clinicians

Throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, we have been in active discussions with other clinical organisations to work how the pandemic has changed the transfusion needs of haemoglobin disorder patients in Scotland. Our shared aim is to reduce hospital visits while maintaining safe and effective transfusion support.


Current blood stock levels across Scotland Tuesday 27 February

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