Giving blood is one of the greatest gifts that a person can give, simple because it can save lives.

While those who do donate blood know what the experience is like, most Australians don’t give it much thought beyond sitting in the chair, having the procedure and then leaving with a sweet snack.

Blood, once donated, is either kept as a “whole” product, or divided into components. The components that are most commonly kept are plasma and platelets.

Platelets are what helps with clotting and reduces bleeding, and are used for cancer patients and other people who have low platelet count.

One of the biggest challenges with platelets is that they only last 5 days before they expire. Therefore, to maintain adequate supplies, blood needs to be donated more frequently in order to get the platelets.

The other frequently stored component is plasma, the fluid that carries the red and white blood cells and the platelets and composes 55% of blood. Plasma, unlike other components of blood, can be frozen and stored for up to a year.

There are a number of way that plasma is used – particularly for people with burns or cancer, as well as bone marrow transplant recipients, just name a few. Additionally, new uses for plasma are still being found today.

But there is more to blood donation than just the components that you give – because different components have different expiry times, it means the demands for supplies can vary. Furthermore, there are times when blood is needed more than others.

This may include Christmas and Easter, and the middle of winter. “During the holidays, many people travel and don’t have time to donate, and in the heart of winter many of the regular donor are sick and unable to donate,” says Dr Geoff Magrin.

“Red cells have a shelf life of 42 days from collection and platelets 5 days. These cannot be released until all safety testing is complete which means platelets are available for 4 days”.

“Platelets collected on Friday will expire Monday at midnight. If collections are limited on Saturday then the following Tuesday will mean platelets are in short supply”.

“Public holiday present problems as donations are limited, and if Christmas is on a Monday with the Tuesday off means there wont be many platelets available for the Wednesday. Similarly Easter with Friday to Monday off means there are always shortages of platelets on Tuesday after Easter.”

The best day to donate blood? Today.