Unite is in Torkwases’ blood

Unite activist Torkwase speaks out on blood donation

Reading time: 5 min

It’s National Blood Week this week (June 10-16), when the NHS gives a “big push for new donors ahead of summer and urges the nation’s giving types to book an appointment to save lives”.

In the story below, we hear from Unite activist Torkwase Holmes and the work she’s doing to promote blood donation.

Torkwase Holmes has a lot on her plate — she works at the NHS Blood and Transplant Centre in Filton, Bristol, and is a busy Unite activist, serving as her branch workplace, equalities and health & safety rep.

Add to that Torkwase’s roles as vice chair of the regional BAEM committee, as well as delegate to the regional women’s committee, the Unite South West health RISC and the health NISC – and you wonder how she has time for anything else.

But Torkwase is also a passionate advocate for raising awareness about sickle cell blood disorder and the need for blood donations from the communities affected.

Sickle cell is a disorder that can lead to many health problems and a lot of pain. It is an inherited health condition that affects red blood cells and is particularly common in people from African and Caribbean communities.

Torkwase explained, “A person with sickle cell disorder may need a blood transfusion every six to eight weeks, and each transfusion will require six to eight pints of blood.

“Ideally the blood should come from someone from the same ethnic background, as transfusions from other groups can cause a build-up of antibodies, which can ultimately lead to organ failure or stroke.

“Another reason why we call on African and Caribbean people is because of a special blood group type Ro, which is predominantly found in this community,” Torkwase added. “This is the main blood needed to treat sickle cell patients.”

To donate blood, an individual must be healthy and never have received a blood transfusion before themselves. They are also only able to give one pint of blood three or four times a year – so you can understand why Torkwase is keen to spread the word and encourage as many people as possible to consider signing up as donors.

And this brings up another role Torkwase carries out. On top of everything else, she is involved with the NHS Marketing Team and promotes events aimed at encouraging more donors with Black heritage to step forward.

She helps organise and promote “What’s your blood type?” and other recruitment events such as blood drives, including one recently in the Malcolm X Community Centre in St Pauls, as part of a Community MOT, which offered blood pressure tests and a chance to register as a donor.

As part of the promotion, Torkwase goes to local shops and barbers to put up posters and talk to shop owners.

She also campaigns for blood donation in her role within Unite by raising a motion from the regional BAEM committee to encourage blood donation, which was passed.

Torkwase went on to say, “I aim to attend all the regional and national TUC conferences so that I can run stalls to recruit more donors and raise awareness of sickle cell disorder.

“I might even see if I can have a presence at the Unite Marquee at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival this year.

“The issue is massively important – and blood donations can make such a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives, so please consider donating blood if you can.”

To find out more about blood donation and how you can get involved, go to the NHS Blood Donation webpage here.

By Keith Hatch

Photo by Mark Thomas