Trials to treat COVID-19 using the blood plasma from those who have already recovered from the illness have begun.
The first 14 units of convalescent plasma from former coronavirus patients have been supplied to three NHS trusts, and transfusions have already taken place.
The trial will aim to look at the effectiveness of the plasma as a treatment for COVID-19, with more hospitals taking part in the test over the coming months.
Convalescent plasma is rich in antibodies from those who have already tested positive, and then recovered from coronavirus, and can be given to those who are struggling to develop their own immune system’s response.
The NHS is also increasing its capacity to collect the plasma from the public, so it can be used on a mass scale should it prove successful in helping patients.
There is some evidence that people will benefit, but its safety and effectiveness has to be confirmed before it can be used more widely.
Gail Miflin, chief medical officer for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We’re delighted the first patients are receiving convalescent plasma transfusions thanks to the generosity of our donors.
“We’re carrying out a clinical trial to see how effective transfusions are and we wish every patient well. Several hospitals are already taking part and this number will quickly grow as more people become eligible to donate plasma.
“Plasmapheresis donation is new to NHSBT but we’re quickly increasing appointments and we’ve taken more than 400 donations so far.
“We’re rapidly building collection capacity so that if our trial shows the transfusions are effective, we can supply hospitals at a large scale.
“We are collecting in nine cities at the moment and we’re expanding to all 23 of our donor centres, and some new venues in large cities.
“We’re using NHS data to contact people with a positive test result who live near our donor centres. People who have recovered can also give us their details at nhsbt.nhs.uk.
“Plasma donation is safe and easy and you could save lives – if you get the call, please donate.”
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Dr Abhi Lal, 43, has been part of the trial and said: “Donating my plasma was a fantastic experience. The staff here at Birmingham Donor Centre have been very friendly and I have been very well looked after.
“I had COVID-19 six weeks ago. I had body aches, fever and fatigue, and a positive test result.
“I wanted to do something to potentially help others and to help develop a treatment.
“I am a chest doctor at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. I look after people at the severe end of it.
“It’s been a pretty nasty illness. It’s made a lot of people very ill and unfortunately some people have not survived. It’s good to be able to try help by donating plasma too.”
If people have recovered from COVID-19 and they are willing to donate, they can provide details through a form on the NHSBT website, www.nhsbt.nhs.uk.