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The benefits of donating blood

Luke Foster

Here's what blood donation involves and how your donation is used

A smiling man sits in a green hospital chair while donating blood
A smiling man sits in a green hospital chair while donating blood

Only one in 30 Australians donates blood, but one in three Australians will need blood in their lifetime. With statistics like that, you can see why making regular blood donations is so important as it may help so many of us at some point in our lives. 

Donating blood has many benefits – including physical and psychological benefits to the donor – and for sick Aussies, it can save lives. But with no suitable artificial substitute for blood, a constant supply of donors is needed to maintain supplies. The Australian Red Cross Blood Service estimates that more than 1.7 million donations of blood are needed every year.  

We asked an expert what’s involved in blood donation and how your donation is used. 

What does donating blood involve? 

The first step to donating blood is to make a booking at your local Australian Red Cross Blood Service donation centre. 

On the day, you’ll complete a questionnaire and do a brief interview where your haemoglobin levels (the protein which carries oxygen around the body) will be checked. 

Luke Foster, Group Manager Clinical Advisory at nib, says that this is all done with a trained onsite staff member. “This will ensure you are eligible, fit and healthy enough to provide a blood donation on that day,” he explains.  

If you’re fine to donate, you’ll be asked to sit in a comfortable reclining chair while a sterile needle connected to plastic tubing and a blood bag is inserted into a vein in your arm. You’ll be asked to clench your fist a few times to help with blood flow.  

One unit of blood (about 470ml, or 8% of the average adult’s blood volume) is collected. Your body typically replenishes the blood within about 24 to 48 hours. 

Luke says the process is designed to be safe, easy and rewarding. “You’ll have specialist staff caring for you while the donation is taking place,” he says. “It’s a very simple process, and some donation centres also offer tasty treats for donors.”  

Types of donations 

The main types of blood donation include whole blood donation, plasma donation and platelet donation. Whole blood donation is the most flexible, allowing the blood to be separated into its components – red cells, plasma and sometimes platelets. But if you donate plasma or platelets, you can donate more frequently because you’re not giving your red blood cells

Your blood type (or blood group) helps determine the blood donation type that’s best for you. If you don’t know your blood type, ask your GP.  

Who can donate blood? 

If you’re aged between 18 and 75, healthy and weigh more than 50kg, you may be eligible to donate blood. Unfortunately, not everyone will be eligible.  

“There are some relatively strict eligibility requirements for who can donate blood,” says Luke. “People who are ineligible include those who have lived in certain places overseas, those who take some types of medications or have certain medical conditions, and some lifestyle considerations also may make individuals ineligible – for example a recent tattoo, or certain sexual activity.”  

Previously, people who had lived in the UK were ineligible for blood donations, but since 2022, UK people are now able to be donors. 

Luke recommends visiting The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood website to find out more about eligibility.  

How is donated blood used? 

Put simply, donated blood is used to save lives. “In fact,” says Luke, “one donation can save up to three lives.”  

Generally, donated blood is used in hospitals or specialist clinics to help individuals who may be sick or critically unwell, including those with conditions such as cancer and diseases of the blood, stomach and kidney.  

Blood donations are also used to support those undergoing surgery, people who have had traumatic accidents or suffered from burns, and pregnant women or new mothers. 

Donated plasma can help people who have issues with blood clotting and immunity, while platelets are often given to people with leukaemia and those undergoing chemotherapy. 

What are the benefits to donating blood? 

Luke has seen first-hand how rewarding it is to give blood. 

“Donating blood is rewarding in the sense that it offers individuals a chance to give back to those in need,” he says. “It provides satisfaction knowing that you have really made an impact to someone who is sick or unwell in their most vulnerable time.”  

And it’s not just psychological – giving blood or plasma may also reduce your own risk of heart disease and reduce your cholesterol.  

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.  

Luke Foster

Luke Foster is Group Manager Clinical Advisory at nib, but also works casually as an intensive care nurse. He’s passionate about supporting people and families through health challenges, saying that simply having a friendly conversation with a patient can be incredibly meaningful for them. Being a nurse means he’s got a great knack of getting things done in a short turnaround – and always with a smile. When he’s not at nib or the hospital, you’ll find him running or surfing.