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Are doctors carrying out too many blood transfusions?

Monday 23rd November 2015
Doctors may be carrying out too many blood transfusions, leading to samples being wasted. Image credit: Tomasz Gierygowski
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Doctors in the UK are being advised to reconsider their approach to blood transfusions, as a new report warns excess procedures could be leading to precious blood samples being wasted.

This is according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which has updated its guidance on blood transfusions in light of recent research that has suggested one-fifth of all such procedures in Britain are in fact unnecessary.

What's more, last year saw 3,668 transfusion-related incidents reported to the Serious Hazards of Transfusion board.

To help doctors decide which transfusions are vital, NICE is providing doctors with a new algorithm to use to determine whether or not patients undergoing surgery should receive the procedure.

Alternatives, such as the drug tranexamic acid, should also be considered, with NICE recommending that doctors use this for patients who are expected to lose no more than 500ml of blood during their operation. The healthcare body also stated the drug should be given to children undergoing surgery who are expected to lose over ten per cent of their blood volume during the procedure.

In addition, tranexamic acid is a much more cost-effective solution, as it is available for as little as 60p for use in surgical settings.

Blood transfusions are, of course, still required in certain situations, NICE just wants doctors to be aware of the cost and waste savings they could make by weighing up alternative options.

Furthermore, with the NHS's time and resources increasingly stretched, fewer blood transfusions would mean nurses' and laboratory staff's time could be put to better uses in other areas.

Professor Mark Baker, director of clinical practice at NICE, commented: "This guideline will ensure blood products are used safely and efficiently. Hundreds of thousands of people receive blood transfusions every year in England and Wales, we must do all we can to ensure that their experience is a safe one."

Written by James Puckle

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