Digitisation at NHS Blood and Transplant drives plasma donations to fight COVID-19

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) manages blood donation and organ donation across the UK.  From public encouragement and donation collection to diagnostic services and pioneering research, the organisation is at the frontline of supporting hospital blood and transplant needs.

With COVID-19 infecting vast amounts of people across the country, NHSBT launched its Convalescent Plasma Programme on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, enabling a world leading clinical trial.  This was a clinical trial to collect donor blood plasma from members of the public who had recovered from the disease in order to treat other patients who were struggling to develop an immune response.

As part of this programme, NHSBT needed to identify and encourage those who have had COVID-19 to come forward and donate their plasma. To do this, NHSBT set up an online form on its website where people could sign up to donate and also called patients who had left hospital after recovering from COVID-19 to ask if they would like to be a part of the programme.

These methods were not driving as much public uptake in the programme as the organisation wanted. Part of the reason for this was because calls were handled via a call centre, which was contacting individuals from a 0300 number, resulting in many people ignoring the call. At the same time, people who did answer and agreed to take part needed to attend a donor centre and use medics’ time to take the donation before they knew if their plasma had the right level of antibodies needed for the trial. This meant that time and resource was lost on bringing people in to donate who potentially were not eligible.

To tackle this, NHSBT wanted to find a way to automate the registration process while also streamlining donations through using sample kits to check if plasma antibodies were a match before visiting a donor centre.

The solution

NHSBT contracted public sector technology expert, Made Tech, to support them in scaling its current blood testing in order to identify volunteer donors with high grade antibodies.

To do this NHSBT and Made Tech firstly performed a discovery exercise, mapping out the existing service to identify user needs for patients, test providers, labs, and contact centre agent users.

Once this process was undertaken a new end-to-end service was created to help NHSBT scale up its plasma collection process and streamline the donations. A new application process interface (API) allowed patients to digitally order a postal test kit from multiple external blood sampling providers, meaning they didn’t need to attend a donor centre, while also being integrated with various third party suppliers, allowing them to perform fulfillment for postal test kits and pharmacy tests.

To address the challenges of potential donors not answering calls, a new process was put in place. Rather than calling in the first instance, it was decided that an email first approach should be taken. To help NHSBT and the third party suppliers involved in contacting individuals, a Gov.UK Notify platform for email was implemented, enabling NHSBT to reach thousands more potential donors than outbound calling alone.

These solutions were built within NHSBT’s existing technology stack in a sustainable and easily manageable way, ensuring it could continue to support and repurpose it in the future.


The results

The new API and Gov.UK Notify platform both produced immediate benefits for NHS BT’s Convalescent Plasma Programme. With more potential donors responding to emails than were answering calls, this led to an increase in public engagement with the programme.

With patients able to order postal test kits to see if their plasma had the right level of antibodies, this further increased engagement with the programme while also saving NHSBT valuable resources to focus on plasma donation rather than blood testing. As only those with the highest amount of antibodies needed to attend the donor centre in the next phase, increasing the amount of vital high titre blood plasma collected to help in the fight against the pandemic.

Marcus Hinde, Product Owner at NHS Blood and Transplant, said about the project: “The new platform and processes were a gamechanger for the Convalescent Plasma Programme. Thanks to the great work by our staff and Made Tech, NHS Blood and Transplant now has access to a fantastic platform that is proven to get results. This has left a great legacy for the Convalescent Patient Programme and the role it’s played during the pandemic.”

Hazel Jones, Head of Health at Made Tech, said: “This project is a great example of how digitisation and collaboration can produce real tangible results and benefit society. We are proud to have played a part in such an important programme that has done so much to help the UK during this turbulent time and we hope that NHS Blood and Transplant is able to benefit further through this work into the future.”