The NHSBT/HPA Epidemiology Unit was set up in October 1995 and is run jointly through NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and the Health Protection Agency (HPA). The core purpose of NHSBT is to "save and improve lives" through the provision of a safe and reliable supply of blood components, diagnostic services, tissues and solid organs to the NHS. The unit collates and reports national epidemiological data on bloodborne infections and the associated risk of transfusion transmitted infection. This information contributes to maintaining a safe supply of blood and tissues through informing donor selection criteria, monitoring trends in infections and following up any reported post-transfusion infections.
The unit manages a series of national surveillance schemes. Infections in blood, tissue and cord blood donors are monitored through the surveillance of donations tested and information about the infected donors is collected. A scheme for reporting investigations into possible transfusion-transmitted infections in the UK contributes to Serious Hazards of Transfusion (SHOT), the United Kingdom’s independent, professionally-led national haemovigilance scheme. For each scheme, data are collected from blood centres throughout NHSBT, the Welsh Blood Service, Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS), Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) along with testing centres in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Data from Scotland are collected by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), reported to the surveillance schemes and included in national analyses.
Blood donations are collected from volunteers (i.e. unpaid individuals) aged 17 years and over at collection sites throughout the UK. For tissue donors, donations are collected from volunteers in hospitals across the UK (age depending upon type of donation). Prior to a donation being made a questionnaire, the donor health check (DHC), is completed for each donor which asks about medical conditions, travel history and behaviours based on donor selection guidelines (DSG). These guidelines are used to determine whether an individual can donate and are designed to defer individuals at increased risk of bloodborne infection or those whose health would be put at risk by donating. In addition, all donations are routinely tested for specific markers of infection (donation testing) and only released for use if all relevant tests are negative.