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News article18 October 2023Joint Research Centre3 min read

Blood donation in the EU: Saving lives through Behavioural Insights

Every drop of blood has the potential to save a life.

red blood cells floating behind a magenta background


In the EU, blood donation plays a vital role in providing healthcare systems with the resources they need to treat patients and offer hope for recovery. However, maintaining a steady supply of blood is not without its challenges. That is where behavioural insights and innovative interventions come into play to boost voluntary and unpaid blood donations.

Blood donation is the ultimate act of compassion: it serves as a lifeline for patients in need and enables a wide range of medical treatments, from surgeries to cancer therapies. But as the EU is facing demographic changes and disruptive crises, the need for blood donations becomes even more critical.    

In one of the latest EU Policy Lab Science for Policy Lab report, the Behavioural Insights team takes a closer look at the impacts and challenges of blood donation across our continent. It explores the pivotal contributions of the behavioural sciences, the innovative strategies employed by Member States and other countries, all aimed at encouraging people to donate blood.

What are the challenges and what can be done? 

  1. Demographic Changes: As the EU’s population becomes older, an increasing number of people require more medical care. To sustain the blood supply for the future, encouraging new and especially young donors to step forward can make a huge difference for others. 
  2. Disruptive Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, increasingly frequent natural disasters, and other unforeseen crises can disrupt blood donation drives and decrease donor turnout. These disruptions can create shortages in critical times, emphasizing the need for robust contingency plans and resilient systems to ensure a steady blood supply in the face of unexpected challenges. 
  3. Donor Motivations and Barriers: In order to encourage more people to donate, it is important to understand the motivations and barriers that individuals face when it comes to blood donation. Fear of needles, time constraints, a lack of awareness about the constant need for blood donations, misconceptions about the process, and inconvenience in locating donation centres are common barriers that prevent potential donors from stepping up. Through behavioural insights, the EU Policy Lab can develop strategies to address these barriers and motivate people to become regular blood donors

How are EU Member States addressing these issues?  

The European Union has taken significant steps to promote voluntary and unpaid blood donation through legislation. In 2002, it adopted a Directive laying the foundation for blood donation practices in the EU. This legislation ensures the safety of blood and blood components, while relying on altruistic donors. In July 2022, the European Commission proposed a revision of this legislation reaffirming the EU’s commitment to altruistic (thus unpaid) and safe blood  donations.

To increase blood donation rates it is essential to also understand how and why people behave in a certain way. Donors can be categorised based on how often they donated blood in the past and how much time has passed since the last time they did so, ranging from new donors to habitual donors. Recognizing their motives and obstacles they face helps to develop effective interventions that acknowledge the needs and challenges donors face. 

Solicitation letters, phone calls, 'warm glow' messages (i.e. which make one feel good about doing good), donor registries and reminders have shown promising results in motivating people to donate blood.  

Across EU Member States, various strategies are employed to recognise and encourage blood donors. Refreshments, and small tokens or symbolic gifts are just a few examples. Acknowledging donors' altruism and commitment can foster a sense of community and encourage continued participation as well. 

To ensure a consistent supply of blood, a multifaceted approach based on understanding donor motivations and employing the most effective interventions is necessary, particularly since various organisations involved in blood donation (national health services, hospitals, community blood banks, and non-profit organisations). Each with its own organisational structure and practices. What is more, adapting to changing demographics and leveraging technology and social media are also crucial in reaching potential donors. 

Every drop of blood holds the power to save a life, so our collective action becomes a beacon of hope for all patients requiring transfusions. By understanding the impact, challenges, and strategies related to blood donation, we can forge a path towards a stable, safe and equitable blood supply system in the EU. An evidence-based, innovation-centred, inclusive system can motivate individuals to give ‘the gift of life’ through blood donation

For a deeper dive into the policy aspects, take a look at the Science for Policy Report below.

Download the report



Publication date
18 October 2023
Joint Research Centre
Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety
EU Policy Lab tags