History of blood services

The United Kingdom (UK) blood services have a worldwide reputation for quality and safety that is second to none and this is built on a system of voluntary unpaid blood donation.

It is a unique organisation within the National Health Service (NHS) as it shares the commitment of all NHS staff to provide the highest possible professional standards, but is unique in the alliance of these commitments with the generosity of its altruistic donors who freely give their blood so that other, unknown persons can have the medical treatment they require.

World War II was the catalyst for the development of the modern blood transfusion service. In 1939 an Army Blood Supply Depot was established in Bristol and four civilian blood banks were opened in and around London.

The initial intention was to provide blood for military and civilian casualties. This proved so successful that in 1940 a further eight regional centres were opened under the supervision of the Emergency Medical Services.

At the end of the war these centres were amalgamated, under the supervision of the Ministry of Health, to form the National Blood Transfusion Service of England and Wales (NBTS) which was established formally on 26 September 1946 (Scotland established its own blood transfusion service).

The National Health Service Act 1946 led to the establishment of the NHS in 1948 and consequently the blood transfusion services came under its umbrella.

The NBTS was initially organised on a regional basis and consisted of 12 Regional Transfusion Centres (RTC) later expanding to 14. In Wales the Cardiff centre was managed by the Welsh Office.

A National Directorate was formed in 1988 to coordinate policy and the work of the regional transfusion centres however, the RHA’s retained management control until the establishment of the National Blood Authority (NBA) as a Special Health Authority in 1993.

In 1994 the NBA assumed executive control of all the English RTC’s and therefore became their statutory body.

The Cardiff centre did not become part of the NBA but remained under the control of the Welsh Office being directly managed by the Welsh Health Common Services Authority.

With devolution in 1997 and the establishment of the Welsh Assembly Government the Cardiff centre evolved into the Welsh Blood Service (WBS) and since 1999 it has functioned as a Division of Velindre NHS Trust, the latter being the statutory body.