This information is closely based on the leaflet provided by NHS Blood & Transplant.
Like all medical treatments, a blood transfusion should only be given if it is essential. Your doctor will balance the risk of you having a blood transfusion against the risk of not having one.
Most people can cope with losing a moderate amount of blood without needing a blood transfusion. However, if larger amounts of blood are lost, a blood transfusion may be the best way of replacing blood rapidly. A blood transfusion may be needed to treat severe bleeding.
You do have the right to refuse a blood transfusion, but you need to fully understand the consequences of this before doing so. Some medical treatments or operations cannot be safely carried out without a blood transfusion being given.
Blood transfusion is only needed for a small number of patients having an operation. Sometimes it is possible to recycle your own blood during or after an operation. Ask if this is appropriate for you. This is not done if your operation is to treat cancer.
Some medicines, such as warfarin, aspirin and some anti-inflammatory drugs may increase the risk of bleeding during your operation. Always check with your doctor to find out if you should stop taking these before your operation and if so, when you should restart them. Do not stop taking any medications without asking your doctor.
You must be correctly identified at each stage of the transfusion to make sure that you get the right blood, including when blood samples are taken before the transfusion. Wearing an identification band with your` details is essential. You will be asked to state your full name and date of birth and this will be checked against your identification band. If you have your blood samples taken as an out-patient, you will not usually be given an identification band to wear, but it is still important that the staff ask you your full name and date of birth to confirm they are taking the samples from the right person. It is alright to remind your nurse or doctor to ask you for this information.
If you have previously been given a card which states that you need to have blood of a specific type, please show it as soon as possible to your doctor or nurse and ask them to tell the hospital transfusion laboratory.
Compared to other everyday risks, the likelihood of getting an infection from a blood transfusion is very low. All blood donors are unpaid volunteers and the risk of viral infections has almost been eliminated as a result of careful donor selection and testing.
It is calculated that hepatitis B might be passed on by fewer than 1 in 1.3 million blood donations. To put this in perspective, you are more likely to die in a gas incident (fire, explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning) than to get hepatitis B from a blood transfusion.
The risk is many times smaller for HIV (1 in 6.5 million) and hepatitis C (1 in 28 million).
The risk of getting the human version of mad cow disease (vCJD) from a blood transfusion is extremely low. Each year, approximately 2.5 million units of blood components are transfused in the United Kingdom and there have been only a handful of cases where patients are known to have become infected with vCJD. Note that as a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of transmitting vCJD, people who have received a blood transfusion since 1980 are not currently able to donate blood.
You may find the following websites useful:
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a Special Health Authority within the NHS, and provides the blood that patients receive. In order to plan for future blood demands, information about which patients receive blood needs to be gathered. We may ask a hospital or GP to provide limited medical information on a sample of patients who have received blood transfusions.
Any information that is passed on to NHSBT is held securely, and the rights of these patients are protected under the Data Protection Act (1998).