I was surprised to learn exactly how far back into history research and experiments into the ways blood works and moves in our body goes. It was in 1628 that William Harvey, one of the leading physicians of that time was able to prove and demonstrate practically that blood actually flowed around the body. I was even more surprised to learn that in 1657 Sir Christopher Wren, I assume he didn’t have any cathedrals to build at the time, carried out experiments in transfusion with equipment designed by William Harvey. During the same year as the great fire of London a man by the name of Richard Lower performs the first successful blood transfusion on an animal. Even in the diaries of Samuel Pepys there are references to the “Royal Society” carrying out transfusions from one canine subject to another in

a series of experiments. Moving forward to the year 1818 Dr James Blundell was conducting transfusions on women that had haemorrhaged during child birth. Unfortunately it was not to be until 1900 that Dr Karl Landstiener an eminent doctor in Vienna discovered that there are four main blood types, those being A, B, AB and O. This discovery shed a lot of light on the problems that had been experienced during the last two hundred years. Then between 1914 and 1918 two more important lesson were learned, more through necessity than a calm and structured research process, as these years clearly encompassed the First World War. The first lesson was that blood could be prevented from clotting by adding sodium citrate and the second was that you could get it to last longer by popping it in the fridge. Fairly soon after the end of the war, 1921, members of the British Red Cross begin to give blood at Kings College Hospital, London heralding the birth of the voluntary blood donor service. Over the Atlantic, in Chicago the first blood bank opens at Cook County Hospital, with a serious number of refrigerators to store the donations. It was in 1937 that the first such storage facility was opened in the UK, in Ipswich. Again through necessity, after the outbreak of the Second World War, four larger civilian donation centres were then opened in London and Bristol. As the war continued and was clearly not going to be over in a matter of weeks the British Army opened eight regional centres and thousands of civilians donate blood and in so doing save the lives of many injured service men and civilians.

In 1946 the National Blood Service is launched, at the time called the Blood Transfusion Service. This next point had me pricking up my ears as it was not until1948 that the National Health Service was born, that will certainly teach me about the dangers of assumption. The two services have been working in close partnership ever since. In 1975 the National Blood Service moves away from the use of glass bottles to store the blood to the more familiar bags that we see today. This allows a much wider use of blood components. In 1986 and 1991 important tests are introduced to screen out HIV and Hepatitis infections and in 1996 the Blood Service celebrates 50 years of saving lives. In 1999 a new test called Nucleic acid Amplification technology was introduced to pick up viruses at a much earlier stage making transfusions even safer. If you would like to donate see panel above left.

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