NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh has called on clinicians to prescribe blood transfusions only when necessary in a bid to prevent demand outstripping supply.

Sir Bruce told this morning’s NHS Blood and Transplant’s patient blood management conference that one in five blood transfusions was not clinically necessary.

He said: “Blood is a precious gift from generous donors and should only be used when necessary…This is better for patients and ensures that demand for blood can be met in the future.”

The call comes after HSJ revealed earlier this year demand for blood platelets, used in the treatment of cancer and diseases of the immune system, was predicted to increase 34 per cent by 2020-21.

Demand for red blood cells is predicted to rise by 7 per cent over the same period. NHS Blood and Transplant has committed to keeping the price of blood flat until at least 2016-17.

The new approach will call on patients, their GP and hospital staff to make sure transfusions are only given where there is clear evidence that it is the best therapeutic treatment available.

NHSBT chief executive Lynda Hamlyn said: “Given the unprecedented growth in demand, we urgently need to work more closely with hospitals to ensure the best possible transfusion practice is in place for all our blood products, and particularly platelets, so that we can continue to help them meet patient needs for the future.”