Your role may involve ‘taking bloods’ from patients, residents or service users. The technical term for taking bloods is ‘phlebotomy.’
This guide explains why phlebotomy is so important. It will explain who can take blood samples, the importance of good training and what this training may involve.
It’s aimed at anyone working in health and social care. Even if you’re unlikely to take blood samples, you may need to support colleagues or patients, request blood tests or help patients respond to results. So, it’s good practice for all staff to understand how and why phlebotomy is performed.
Phlebotomy is the practice of obtaining venous blood (i.e. from a vein) samples from patients. You may also hear it referred to as ‘venepuncture’. Venepuncture is a broader term, meaning puncturing a vein to draw blood but also for other procedures, such as to administer an intravenous injection.
Phlebotomy is a routine task in hospitals, GP surgeries, out-patient clinics and other healthcare settings. When obtained, blood samples are sent to a laboratory for testing and analysis.
What sort of things can blood samples help with?
The doctor or nurse who requests the blood sample will specify what tests they want you to take. These can include: full blood count, urea and electrolytes (known as ‘U&E’s), thyroid function tests etc. Each result is then analysed against the normal range. So, for example, if someone’s white blood count is high this can indicate the presence of an infection or something else.
A wide range of medical conditions and illnesses can be diagnosed by investigating the chemical structure of blood samples. It’s also a way of measuring and monitoring the progress of some health issues and managing certain medical conditions such as heart, liver or kidney disease or diabetes.
Clinical and care staff using this skill
Qualifications and skills needed
There are usually no entry requirements, though some employers may ask for at least two GCSEs (or equivalent). Some employers and trainers require a BTEC or equivalent vocational qualification in health and social care, or previous healthcare experience, e.g. as a healthcare assistant.
As you will be working closely with patients, relatives and other healthcare staff you will need to be:
As part of your workplace training you will attend a specialist training course where you have the chance to learn the knowledge and skills you will need for your role. Let’s look at the training in more detail, and why it’s so necessary.
Even though phlebotomy is often considered a routine procedure, it is still important that you are trained properly.
Training helps you learn the skills needed to draw blood smoothly, minimise the risks and manage the patient’s response.
According to guidelines issued by WHO (World Health Organisation), before undertaking phlebotomy, health workers ‘should be trained in, and demonstrate proficiency for, the blood collection procedures on the patient population that will be within their scope of practice.’
If you are a registered nurse, paramedic, doctor etc you will have a professional accountability when undertaking – or delegating- this skill. This requires you to have the knowledge skills and competency to perform the role.
You may also have to take refresher trainer if:
Though you will be expected to develop competence in phlebotomy in a real clinical environment, it all starts with understanding the theory behind it. And practicing skills in a training environment.
Phlebotomy theory training looks at:
Once you’re familiar with the theory, you will be given supervised opportunities to gain practical skills in phlebotomy.
Depending on where you work, you may be trained specifically in phlebotomy related to your field. So, this could be drawing blood for paediatric, neonatal and intensive care, or for blood transfusion purposes, for example. This would also dictate how long your supervisory period extends before you can take bloods independently.
If you’re training to be a phlebotomist, your course would be far more comprehensive. You would need to demonstrate competency across various venepuncture techniques.
Having completed the theory and practical elements of your training, the next stage would put your new skills to use on a ward or in other clinical setting. You will work under the supervision or a skilled and qualified mentor (e.g. senior nurse). This is referred to as a ‘workplace competency assessment’.
During this time your performance is measured against agreed competency frameworks. That means the standards that have been agreed for phlebotomy in your health field.
Your mentor will use this time to help perfect your skills. For you, the workplace competency assessment is a chance to ask questions and benefit from constructive feedback.
The sort of thing your mentor would be looking at, includes:
If you want to enrol on a phlebotomy training course, this section will help you to decide which one best meets your needs.
If you’re applying for training through an employer, they are required to carry out due diligence, meaning they must ensure the training provision is appropriate.
If you’re considering using an external training provider, you should base your choice on such things as:
As with any clinical skill it is important that you keep up to date with any changes to local and national guidance. You may want to consider subscribing to relevant professional newsletters as well as networking with other colleagues who routinely perform venepuncture.
Reflecting on your own practice is an important aspect of your CPD. Not only is this mandatory for some professionals (e.g. nurses) but it can help you learn and develop.
If you are a phlebotomist, you can become a member of the National Association of Phlebotomists (NAP) or associate members of the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS). These provide information on good practice and news of developments in this field.
You could also network with colleagues who routinely perform venepuncture to stay updated.
National association of Phlebotomists FAQ
Step into the NHS: phlebotomist
This post was last modified on 29 March 2021
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