The Floating Blood Bank

World Blood Donor Day is being celebrated across the world today including on board the world’s largest charity floating hospital where the volunteer crew themselves are the ship’s blood bank.

Most blood donors never get to meet the people who receive their blood but the volunteer crew on board the Africa Mercy know exactly where their blood ends up.

A small supply of blood is kept in a traditional refrigerated storage like most blood banks, however the majority of the blood used before and during surgery comes directly from the volunteers who provide an instant source of blood for the thousands of patients on board.

Every new crew member is asked if they would be willing to donate blood and then the relevant pre-screening is done and their blood type is recorded in the database. Whenever a certain type of blood is needed the next crewmember on the list is called to come and donate right then and there.

At any one time, Mercy Ships has about 30 potential donors for each blood type on board, all of whose blood has been checked on arrival. Volunteers can be called upon day or night to give a pint of blood with the donation often being walked straight over to the patient for transfusion while it is still warm.

Ali Herbert, a theatre nurse from Gloucester, has volunteered on the floating hospital fourteen times and is called upon regularly to donate blood. 

Ali said: “Mercy Ships has a very unique blood bank and giving blood whilst on board is a priority. 

“The process of giving blood is not so different from home, however what is very different is seeing it being checked and given to a patient in one of the ICU beds within three minutes. There is no need for a blood warmer! 

“It is not very common that you meet the person your blood is going to so seeing exactly where your blood is going and meeting the person it is helping is very rewarding.”

Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director of Mercy Ships UK said: “Millions of people across the globe are alive thanks to someone, somewhere donating blood, and our volunteers play a key role in not only caring for and delivering life-saving surgeries, but also ensuring that there is an endless supply of blood on board.

“A blood donation is one of the most precious and valuable gifts anyone can give because you are offering someone else a life line and increasing their chances of survival dramatically.

“Our volunteers range from doctors and nurses, to cooks, cleaners and engineers but all have the opportunity to save a life by donating their blood. 

“Mercy Ships are delighted to be celebrating World Blood Donor Day as it gives us the chance to thank all those who have so selflessly donated and to urge others to do the same – you don’t know whose life you might be saving.”