Donating blood only takes a few minutes but can mean a lifetime. THOMAS HAWORTH learns more about the vital life-saving service

AS somebody born in 1990, I am only vaguely familiar with the comedic intrigues of the late Tony Hancock. Yet I can recall with perfect precision the sketch for which he is most famous.

A jovial Hancock enters the doctor’s surgery intending to give blood, doing his bit for king and country, he says. The solemn, po-faced physician then instructs him to sit down and prepare for the extraction before a speck of blood is taken from the donor’s finger as a sample. The innocent Hancock, bursting with pride over this small act of gallantry, then stands and bids the startled doctor a fond farewell.

When told that the speck of blood was merely a sample and that, in fact, a full pint of blood is required, an incredulous Hancock responds: “A pint! Have you gone raving mad? That’s very nearly an arm full!”

Well, it is safe to say that in Swindon there are few as innocently naïve as poor Mr Hancock, who swore he was “not walking around with an empty arm for anybody”.

But if blood is meant to circulate, it makes sense to pass it around.

Last month, the County Ground was transformed into a pop-up clinic in which throngs of selfless people from all over Swindon gave up their time to give blood.

The ground hosts blood donation days every month or two and the sessions always see plenty of individuals committed to giving up their free time to potentially save a life. And walking into one of the function rooms it was immediately clear that today was a very special day.

Rows of seated volunteers, some looking more enthusiastic than others about the prospect of losing an arm full, were waiting patiently for their turn.

One such individual was 65-year-old Philip Howell, from Royal Wootton Bassett, who is something of a regular at these pop-up sessions.

Phil was making his 95th donation and is one of the strongest supporters of blood donation you are ever likely to meet.

He is also amongst the warmest and most cordial of men, and giving his blood to save the lives of others is entirely congruent with his character.

Remembering back to his first donation session, Phil, who was born in Birmingham, said: “I wasn’t nervous at the time. When I was young, I used to go with my mum when she went to give blood and it never worried me. I was happy to start donating as soon as I was old enough.”

One of the things that frequently puts people off is fear of the dreaded needle.

Phil said: “Whenever I can I try to get friends and family to do it. My wife absolutely hates needles, so I haven’t had any luck persuading her yet. But everyone knows how important it is and they’re always happy to help.”

It is hugely important for the NHS to maintain a regular supply of all blood groups and types so they can provide it to the hospitals and patients who need it, sometimes desperately so. Men can give blood every 12 weeks and women every 16 weeks.

The NHS in England needs about 6,000 blood donations every day or about 200,000 new donors every year.

Explaining the process when donors first arrive, Carole Curtis, one of Swindon’s session sisters, explained that each is given a welcome booklet with information on the blood donating process before undergoing a medical assessment.

After going through a donor’s medical history, they are then asked to drink a pint of fluid in order to ensure their blood pressure doesn’t drop, which could result in the donor passing out.

Then, in goes the needle and out comes the blood, though, according to donors, it’s not remotely as painful as it sounds.

“It’s just a sharp prick when it goes in, but that’s about it,” said Phil.

Once 470mls of blood has been extracted from each donor, they are then given tea and biscuits to ensure they don’t feel any negative effects.

Most people had pre-booked their donation session, but the nurses still offered a warm welcome to any who decided to drop in unannounced.

Carole, who has worked for the NHS for almost 40 years, said: “It’s about respecting the patient by making sure the blood is safe but also about recognising our duty of care towards the donor. We don’t want to make them unwell by taking their blood.

“It’s always great to see people come along and give blood, and we are grateful for them giving their time for such a worthwhile cause.”

Explaining why he thinks it important to give blood, Phil said, quite simply: “I have been fortunate that I have never needed to receive blood. I would like to think that I may have helped people and, even though I haven’t needed one yet, I may at some point in the future.

“The sisters here look after you very well. They are always friendly, and for those of us who come here frequently they always remember our names. You get a great service – even though they stick needles in your arm.”

Anyone between the age of 17 and 66 can donate blood as long as they are fit and healthy and weigh more than seven stone 12 lbs.

To find out more information, or to become a donor, log on to or call 0300 123 23 23. Donating blood means a few minutes to you but a lifetime for somebody else.

“We are always looking for more donors and to spread the word,” said Carole.