New study into blood risk to contribute to national policy debate

Issue date: 13 June 2011


Microscope

Risk, safety and consent in contemporary blood services in the United Kingdom: perspectives from sociology and law

Risks associated with blood transfusions are to be scrutinized in a new national project that will inform public policy on the process.

The project is a partnership between the University of the West of England, the University of Leicester and the University of Manchester. The team is led by the University of Leicester and will examine the risks and benefits of receiving blood or blood products- and will consider the need for patients to give informed consent, if possible, before receiving blood.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the work involves collaboration between Dr Helen Busby at the University of Leicester, Professor Julie Kent at the University of the West of England, Bristol and Dr Anne-Maree Farrell at the University of Manchester.

Professor Julie Kent said, “I am delighted to be a collaborator on this project. Through its focus on blood services and ways in which protection of public health is understood and managed within these services the project will contribute to an important area of policy. I also see investigation of the issues faced by blood services as informing a wider understanding of the management of risk and safety and ethical concerns within contemporary 'tissue economies'.”

Dr Busby said the research was important because it fed into current debate on issues relating to blood transfusion: “Although receiving blood has become progressively safer, some risks are involved. These risks are statistically small, and those involved in blood banking have long been involved in anticipating and managing risks of blood transfusion. Whilst much has been achieved in this field, new challenges have emerged. For example, for policy makers in the United Kingdom, managing the risk of transmission of Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in donated blood is currently an important priority. Regulation and governance of the international blood supply is an international and national activity aimed at protecting public health.

“In the past it has been difficult for lay people to access information about blood products, and stigma about certain diseases intensified this problem. In keeping with contemporary policies that emphasise patient involvement in health services, there is now an expectation that there will be more information for all interested in their treatment. This extends to the risks and benefits of receiving blood.

“There is also currently discussion nationally about whether it would be appropriate for patients to be asked to give their informed consent to receiving blood or blood products, where possible, as is required for many other medical interventions. This research project is therefore both timely and is expected to inform policy debate. It will also enhance understanding of the ways in which we think about risk and safety issues associated with blood transfusion and international blood economies.”

The project aims to look at how people frame risk and safety in blood services in the UK and aims to provide a sociologically informed analysis of public understandings, professional practice, public policy, and law in relation to risks in the supply of blood products in the UK.

The researchers will undertake innovative qualitative research about how patients, professionals, and regulators approach important questions about risk when thinking about treatments with blood products.

Ends

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