About one-third of all people who had transfusions in Britain were given the wrong blood, an informal questionnaire has discovered. Six people died from the error and a further 12 became ill. The rate is similar to that recorded in the US.

This is the first time that blood transfusions have ever been monitored in Britain, even though they have been practised for 50 years.

The findings were based on 245 blood transfusion laboratories who participated in the questionnaire. Of those, 20 laboratories volunteered the information of the 100 incidents in which the wrong blood was given, although the questionnaire did not enquire about errors.

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, which carried out the informal study, is recommending the creation of a national system for reporting transfusion errors and fatalities. Such a system already exists in the US, set up by the FDA (BMJ, 7 May 1994).

The lack of scientific evidence for transfusions is also a matter of concern for another Edinburgh based association, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

They heard at a recent meeting that medicine still cannot agree on how and when to transfuse red cells and how to assess the benefits.

And in those 50 years of use, transfusions have never been scrutinized by the “golden mean” of medicine, the randomized, double-blind study.

The Royal College has decided to begin remedying this situation by carrying out research into the benefits of red-cell transfusion. They will also encourage doctors to tell patients their reasons for giving a transfusion (The Lancet, 21 May 1994).

Doctors at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England were able to save the life of a seriously injured man who had refused a transfusion. They used aggressive resuscitation and intensive care instead. However, a second man who also refused a transfusion died, and doctors believe his life could have been saved had he agreed to the procedure BMJ, 28 May 1994.

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