70 Years of Saving Lives!

The horror of World War I and the struggle to cope with the increasing number of casualties was catalyst to find new ways of exploiting the lifesaving benefits of blood transfusion.

The discoveries that adding an anticoagulant to prevent clotting and keeping blood chilled could increase the shelf life of blood meant that stocks could be established. This removed the need for arm-to-arm transfusion – a severe limitation on the battlefield.

In October 1921 Percy Oliver, a Red Cross volunteer in South London, compiled a list of volunteer donors and in doing so created the world’s first organised voluntary blood transfusion service.

By the end of 1926, it had been agreed that the Red Cross would adopt the scheme nationwide and it was formalised as the British Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service.

In 1939, with war looming, the system of calling individual donors to meet specific hospital requests could not meet demand from the expected number of civilian casualties and a bank of stored blood was needed.

Four civilian blood banks were opened in and around London in 1939, the initial intention being to provide blood for military and civilian casualties. This ‘blood transfusion service’ proved so successful that in 1940 a further eight regional centres were opened under the supervision of the Emergency Medical Services. The first time that donated blood was needed on a large scale was in May and June 1940 for injured troops returning from the beaches of Dunkirk. Great Britain became the Blood Bank for the Allies.

At the end of the war these centres were amalgamated, under the supervision of the Ministry of Health. The National Blood Transfusion Service was established formally in England and Wales on 26 September 1946 (Scotland established its own blood transfusion service). In the same year, legislation in the form of The National Health Service Act led to the establishment of the NHS in 1948, and consequently the blood transfusion services came under the umbrella of the new NHS.

  • 1946 the only test carried out was for syphilis.
  • 1948 blood transfusion therapy was restricted to the transfusion of whole blood, red cell concentrates and plasma.
  • Glass bottles and reusable needles were used to collect blood.
  • The ear prick test was used to check iron levels before the finger prick test

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