Published On: Wed, Apr 3rd, 2019

Derek Parsons: I’ve saved 450 lives… without leaving chair

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He is thought to be England’s most prolific blood donor, having offered up 156 pints in the last 55 years. The grandfather-of-four first donated aged 18 in 1964, after joining the army. Derek, 71, said: “I took blood tests and after I’d been there about four weeks my sergeant said I needed to go to the medical centre.

“The doctor said: ‘You’ve got one of the rarest blood groups there is. We would very much like you to donate.’ 

“The next day I went to the military hospital and donated my first unit.”

Derek’s O rhesus negative blood is particularly valuable as it can be given to anyone.

While stationed in Germany in the late 1960s, he donated every 12-14 weeks and was even called upon during emergencies.

He said: “I was once woken up at two o’clock in the morning by a guard who said: ‘There’s a Land Rover downstairs, get your bum downstairs quick.’

“One time it was a young girl who had to have surgery. Another was the result of a hysterectomy that went wrong. And another one was a road traffic accident, a soldier that got injured. I never met any of them.

“The army didn’t have the kind of facilities you’ve got in England for storing blood, so they relied on whoever they could get hold of.”


Derek Parsons is thought to be England’s most prolific blood donor (Image: Tim Clarke)

Derek, who lives with wife Janet in Woodley, Reading, has now given blood 156 times.

The pair plan their holidays around his donation schedule, and once rushed to the nearest centre during a holiday in Somerset after he received a call saying stocks were running low.

As one donation can help three adults, the NHS estimates he has saved at least 450 lives.

But for the last 20 years his blood has mainly been given to premature babies. One donation can help 11 babies, meaning the real figure may be closer to 1,500.

Derek said: “What keeps me motivated is that 23 years ago my grandson Oliver was born 13 weeks premature.

“He had to have life-saving surgery and someone out there donated blood to help save his life. 

“I thought, that’s brilliant. If there wasn’t that blood he wouldn’t be here. Now he’s about to graduate with a drama degree – it changed his life completely.”

Derek will celebrate his 72nd birthday next Tuesday and has set himself a target of reaching 200 donations.

“If I stay fit and healthy I would like to make 200. I’ll be 81 when I’m finished,” he said.


The grandfather-of-four first donated aged 18 in 1964 (Image: Tim Clarke)

I’ve been very fortunate

Derek Parsons

“I’ve been very fortunate. Although I’ve had physical injuries – I’ve got a metal knee – physically I’ve managed to stay quite fit and strong.”

In true karmic fashion, his donations have helped keep him healthy on occasion.

When he donated three weeks after a trip to Egypt, tests performed on the blood revealed that he was carrying a virus and his doctor was quickly informed.

Derek works part-time in a care home and has raised over £60,000 for charities including Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation by taking part in marathons and swimming races.

He has been nominated for a Queen’s Award by his local MP Matt Rodda, but remains modest and insists the real heroes are the staff who facilitate donations.

He is eager to encourage others to donate. Recent changes to organ donation laws mean more organs may soon be available for patients in desperate need of a transplant, but this will only be possible if there is an adequate supply of donor blood.


He has offered up 156 pints in the last 55 years (Image: Tim Clarke)

Derek said: “You can imagine how much blood must be needed for a heart and lung transplant – it must be phenomenal.

“I want people to know so that when the changes happen the blood banks are not phoning people like me around the country saying ‘we desperately need your blood’.

“Don’t be nervous. Don’t be frightened. You’ll feel great afterwards knowing you’ve done something pretty special.

“I can’t wait for my next donation. I get home, I sit down and I’m on the phone booking the next one.

“It’s a good feeling. And what does it cost? Nothing.”

Tracy Wright, regional head of blood donation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “156 blood donations is an incredible achievement.

“Unfortunately it’s not possible for us to definitely say which donor has donated the most blood ever.


The NHS estimates Derek has saved at least 450 lives (Image: Tim Clarke)

“This is because in some of our older donor records, we can’t separate out whether donations were blood donations or platelet donations.

“Mr Parson’s own records confirm his 156 donations and from our experience we know that very few, if any, English donors will have given more blood.”

Almost 5,000 donations are needed every day to meet the needs of patients in England.

The NHS also urgently needs 40,000 more black donors because they are more likely to have the blood types needed to transfuse the increasing number of patients with sickle cell disease.

Anyone who is fit and healthy, weighs over 7 stone 12 lbs and is aged between 17 and 65 should be eligible to donate.

To find out more, call 0300 123 23 23, or visit

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