The NHS Blood and Transplant service is a critical piece of national infrastructure. 

Each year approximately 2.5m units of blood are transfused in the UK, donated by thousands of people each day and helping save lives nationwide.  

Keeping clear records of the donors and making sure the right blood gets to the correct recipients is essential and it is made possible by a piece of software written by a company based in South Cumbria.  

Savant Ltd has a history which goes back to the 1970s in Carnforth when it was founded by John and Margo Collins to promote the work of James Martin, one of the foremost thinkers in information technology.  

James Martin was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century in computer science, writing many books on the subject and travelling the world lecturing. He was also a pioneer in the field of computer databases. 

Through connections at Lancaster University, John Collins began developing database software to record the blood donor and transfusion data for the local health authority.  

In the late nineties the NHS moved to consolidating the databases for the blood service into three hubs in the south west, south east and the north. They put out a tender to invite companies to provide software and support to make this possible, with Savant winning the contract.  

Today the three zones have been further consolidated into one system and Pulse software, written by Savant, is still the key to recording the data accurately.  

"NHSBT's legal requirement is that they need to have enough information to identify the individual who gives blood and to ensure that that blood is safe for collection and use,” says Savant managing director Pete Gregg.  

“It requires 24/7 support, 365 days a year.” 

As well as personal data, the records also need to include information such as places donors have travelled to or even their history of tattoos. All this information is vital to prevent the issue of unsuitable blood products for transfusion or other uses. 

Pulse is also used to record the results of tests carried out on donors before they give blood and track blood as it makes its way through the system, automatically raising the alarm if there is a reason certain blood should not be given to certain recipients, or if it should be held or discarded. 

The software is used to manage the data of the up to 10,000 people who give blood each day, as well as those who have been identified as unable to give blood.  

In addition, there is a huge archive of all the people who have given blood historically, which has to be maintained for up to 30 years after the event.  

"A blood transfusion is a major procedure and in the very unlikely event that something goes wrong you may not find out for a long time. There have to be those records," says Pete. 

In Cumbria:

Savant applies similar principles of Pulse to its Li-LAC software which is used at breast milk banks, where mothers can donate milk that is processed and distributed to neonatal and special care baby units within hospitals.  

Similarly, its LabelCyte software allows hospitals, stem cell labs and tissue banks to label, record and track donations of human material accurately, safely and in a way that meets international standards.  

Alongside this, it also supports French company GPI France in regard to its Hematos system within the UK, which monitors and records specialist blood, tissue and stem cell testing by health agencies around the world.  

For now, Savant’s business is mostly UK based, although it is hoping to expand into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as potentially Europe and further afield.  

As well as its work on software related to human health, Savant also writes bespoke software for a range of companies, for purposes such as stock control and finance. 

"We write software based on people's requirements," says Pete.  

"We manage databases and provide 24/7 support 365 days a year.” 

When John and Margo Collins retired in 2000, Savant was purchased by the staff on a deferred payment basis to form an employee benefit trust.  

Each of its 50 employees - no matter what role they work in and provided they have worked for the company more than a year - has an equal voting right on its future. 

Savant made the move from Carnforth to the Dalton Hall Business Centre, near Burton-in-Kendal, in 2007.  

Pete joined the company as a developer in 1998 alongside George Tziros who is technical director. They sit alongside a third director and project coordinator Rachel Wood.  

“It’s a very fulfilling job,” says George.  

“I joined straight from university and 25 years later I’m still here and I couldn’t think of doing anything else.” 

As an employee benefit trust Savant also has an employee representative director on its management board, Clare Green. 

The team are currently focused on growing the use of systems such as Li-LAC and LabelCyte across the health sector, as well as upgrading Pulse from 32-bit to a 64-bit system to widen the range of hardware it can be used with. 

“A lot of people like the idea of working here because it’s altruistic,” says Pete.  

“It has a very good beneficial purpose for the country and it comes with a big responsibility as well.”