Reducing blood transfusions to lower patient risk, reduce costs and save lives

More than half a million people in the UK receive a blood transfusion each year and demand is increasing. Our ageing population, and a stringent donor selection process, mean the supply of blood is limited. 40% fewer new donors came forward last year compared with a decade ago.

blood donations
In addition, transfusions come with risks: patients can develop antibodies to the transfused red blood cells, or their immune systems can be suppressed, increasing the risk of infections.

Recognising these challenges, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have shown the benefits of reducing the use of blood transfusions in intensive care and surgery. This led to savings of more than £100 million for the NHS annually across the UK, reducing unnecessary blood transfusions and ultimately saving patients’ lives by conserving limited blood supplies.

Edinburgh’s research produced clear evidence that restricted transfusion use leads to lower mortality rates for patients in intensive care. As a result of substantial changes in clinical practice following the research, there was a 20% reduction in overall UK red blood cell usage between 2002 and 2012. This has led to 7,000 fewer patients being exposed to red cell transfusion annually, and saved 500 lives.

The research has been incorporated into international guidelines and Edinburgh researchers have played a critical role in the development and implementation of national policies on blood use.

Related case studies