Pre-operative anaemia and perioperative red blood cell transfusion carry significant consequence when it comes to surgical outcomes. The establishment of patient-centred clinical pathways has been designed to harness and endorse good transfusion practice, termed the three pillars of patient blood management (PBM). These focus on the timely and appropriate management of anaemia, prevention of blood loss and restrictive transfusion where appropriate. This article reviews the current evidence and ongoing research in the field of PBM in surgery. Strategies to implement PBM have shown significant benefits in appropriate transfusion practice, reduced costs and improved length of hospital stay. Recently published national quality standards have recognised the features of the PBM blueprint such as the consideration of alternatives to red blood cell transfusion, the active measures to reduce perioperative blood loss and the appropriate management of post-operative anaemia. Adopting PBM in surgical patients should be paramount to reduce the risks posed by perioperative anaemia and blood transfusions. The principles of PBM help structure the interventions and decisions relating to anaemia and blood transfusion, but, more importantly, represent a paradigm shift towards a more considered approach to blood transfusion, acknowledging its risks, preventatives and alternatives.