In the first of two articles on government plans to privatise the Blood Donation Services, George Schochat demonstrates how important it is for the service to remain in public hands. In a separate article , Mike Walker writes about the role of communist party member Richard Doll in the founding of blood services within the NHS. Over 50,000 have signed a petition to save the service -  petition here.

The government is now in retreat driven back by public and professional rejection of its plans to rip up a core service of our NHS - the blood donation service.
 
Blood Donation Service [NHSBT] plays a unique role in British life. It is staffed by professionals who are at the front of world medical research yet it relies on donations, freely given by citizens, in the knowledge that their blood can only be used for research or to help others, they will have never met.
 
The NHSBT collects blood for England and North Wales. It however deals with
 organ donation and transplantation for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland. It employs around 6500 people in a very complex and busy service.
 Many trade unionists organise blood donation facilities at workplaces in an attempt to keep up supply.
 
The service was established as part of the building of the NHS and specifically set out to create a national framework that was socialised and, therefore, outside the 'market' and capitalist relations. There was to be no buying and selling of blood. The driving force behind this ethos was the experience of those who led in developing the NHS framework, many of whom had served time in the armed forces medical corps during World War Two.
 
The first significant breakthrough in creating a transfusion service came during the civil war in Spain as a result of the work of Canadian Dr Norman Bethune who made great strides in dealing with wounds resulting from armed conflict, often in hospitals close to the front line. Bethune went on to serve a term with the People's Liberation Army in China.
 
Now this jewel in the crown of the NHS is threatened with privatisation in a shift to an American style model where donors are paid for their blood. Health minister Lansley and his acolytes in the ministry are pushing for a service which is 'more commercially effective'. Yet there can be no guarantee that, in a commercially driven environment, sufficient high quality and systematic checks will be put in place. 
 
Unions have been swift and robust in response to government plans. Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis recently said "“This is crunch time for the blood service. The government wants to open it 
up to private companies with DHL and Capita already in the frame. The prime
 motive of these companies is money and we will fight this all the way."
 
Prentis expressed the view that the voluntary ethos behind the service was so strong that there was a danger people would refuse to donate if the service went commercial. The blood service has about a weeks supply in stock at any one time 
(about 50, 000 units of blood) so any dip in numbers donating would
 potentially be devastating and exceedingly dangerous to the whole NHS.
 
Unite health workers have joined the campaign establishing a successful online petition which will be presented to the government.