The privatisation of blood donations

108428165 300x176 The privatisation of blood donationsThe proposed privatisation of NHS Blood and Transplant service, or parts of it, will instinctively make people shudder and we are right to be concerned about how commercial motives will change the service.

At Anthony Nolan, we know a lot about blood. We have provided stem cells for transplant to people with blood cancers and similar conditions since 1974. We set up the world’s first bone marrow donor register and have always worked closely with the NHS. In fact our fundraising enables us to support the cost to the NHS of acquiring cells for these life saving transplants.

With blood there are some pressing hurdles to overcome with privatisation. Firstly, what will be the impact on individuals when they are asked to donate blood when a company will make a profit from that donation? Will there be a move to allow payments to be made to donors, raising the overall costs and removing the philanthropy from the act of donation? NHSBT also often asks blood donors if they would also like to join the bone marrow register, an important channel for getting more people signed up. If privatised, what will be the commercial incentive to continue supporting this work?

Privatisation of something so essential also demands cast iron assurance of quality and safety standards through regulations and inspections. As a charity handling human tissues, we’re subject to a rigorous regulation regime, but we don’t have a profit motive that conflicts with that drive for quality and safety. Furthermore, if foreign companies are to bid for NHSBT, to what extent will we be increasing the acquisition of blood from territories where we don’t get to choose how often or how thoroughly laboratories and facilities are inspected, even if their regulations are harmonised with our own?

In the Big Society, the Government has a nugget of an idea that is wholesome and attractive but articulated only as an expression of values. As this idea has been translated into policy, there have been few examples of those values surviving the overriding impetus to deliver financial savings. If the government is minded to release control of NHSBT, surely this is an opportunity to get creative and come up with a Big Society solution that delivers on the values.

One route might be to turn NHSBT into a mutual or to create a charity or community interest company to deliver on the service – a landmark first investment from the Big Society Bank perhaps? Or if it is to be sold, maybe the Scottish or Welsh blood services might like to take a stake, reflecting the way foreign state-owned utilities have bought into our own in past privatisations.

Philip Blond, Director of the think tank ResPublica, has written about the “stifling duopoly of a centralised state and a laissez-faire free market” and in many ways he is right; there is a compelling argument for supporting a more diverse flora in the delivery of public services. It is harder though to see the argument for a rush to commercialisation, particularly when the commodity in question is blood gifted by selfless people for the benefit of strangers.

If NHSBT is to be reformed, let’s find a structure that keeps standards high, ensures people’s safety and preserves the nobility inherent in its central, vital function.

Henny Braund is Chief Executive for Anthony Nolan

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  • David Lienard

    And I hope they are duly ashamed of themselves, also, that they know better next time???

  • hunfred

    This great country of ours is full of generous kind caring individuals who have been giving and caring,and collecting,and sharing for years with out fan fare with often no thanks at all.I do not think that is likely to change,what is changing is a cynical attempt by a few less than gifted politicians to make us think they know something we don’t.No I am not going to stop giving blood,no I am not going to stop helping people when ever I can.This society is not broken David,it just does not want slogans, or un asked for advice by people who have no idea what the real world looks like.So do us all a huge favor DO NOT TRY TO FIX WHAT IS NOT BROKEN.And if I give something free I want it given free.That as a citizen is my right,or you can come outside and we can settle this behind the bike sheds.

  • David Lienard

    I agree with you 100% but what I would like to ask is, Why weren’t questions asked about these glaring flaws in the House of Commons over the past 13 years? Labour government??? in a pigs eye. Nye Bevan would have refused to sit in the same room as them!!!

  • Guest

    The ConDems literally want blood money. The scum has risen to the top!
    What can be more altruistic than giving blood for free to save lives in our NHS? This is a prime example that people don’t want or need platitudes about the big society.
    We must lobby our MPs. Get everyone we know who values the NHS and public service to lobby their MPs. Show up at MPs surgeries in numbers and tell them face to face that this is unacceptable. If we don’t act now we deserve what we get.

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