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National Patient Safety Agency

Blood transfusion and surgery

If you need an operation you may require a blood transfusion. Here are some points to bear in mind before you go into hospital and while you are there.




  • Very few people need a blood transfusion before, during or after surgery. It depends on the type of operation that you are having. You can discuss this with your doctor or nurse.
  • The blood you receive during a blood transfusion will come from a blood donor. All blood donors are voluntary and unpaid. They are very carefully tested to make sure that the blood they donate is as safe as possible.
  • A blood transfusion can take up to four hours, but can be given safely more quickly if needed. Your doctor
    will decide how long it will take.
  • You don’t always need a blood transfusion from blood donors. Ask if you can have your own blood back using a procedure called intra-operative cell salvage.
  • One reason for needing a blood transfusion is if you are anæmic. You may be anæmic due to a lack of iron. If this is corrected in good time before your operation you may not need a blood transfusion. You should ask your doctor or nurse to check if you are anæmic.
  • Tell your nurse or doctor if you’re taking any medicines or tablets (including herbal supplements) and bring these into hospital with you. Before you go into hospital, stay as active as possible and eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet (include foods that are rich in iron and vitamin C). Try to stop smoking and reduce your alcohol intake as this can help reduce the risk of complications during operations.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse for a copy of the NHS patient information leaflet on receiving a blood transfusion. Many hospitals have specialist staff working in blood transfusion, and your doctor or nurse could arrange for someone to come and talk to you.


‘It was for the good of my health’

When Barbara discovered she needed a blood transfusion before surgery, she was worried. But she knew that she was in safe hands.


“I was in hospital awaiting surgery when I was told that I was anaemic. My doctor explained I would need a blood transfusion before my operation to raise my blood count.

“I felt nervous as I wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew it was for the good of my health, so I tried not to worry.”

Barbara and kids

Barbara’s blood transfusion enabled her surgery to go ahead. However, after her surgery, Barbara required another transfusion.

“During my blood transfusion, I was able to read a book and watch TV. I remember looking at the blood and feeling very grateful to the blood donor as it helped me to have my operation safely.”



Right Patient, Right Blood

You will be asked who you are and your identification band will be carefully checked before each bag of blood is given. This is to make sure that you are receiving the right blood.

Ask your doctor or nurse to confirm your identity before each bag of blood is given.


Cell salvage

Cell salvage is the process of collecting the blood that is lost during, or just after your operation, so that it can be given back to you.