Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My concerns over changes to blood product collection in Canada and my correspondence with politicians about same

Recently, Health Canada and the provinces have introduced changes in blood and plasma collection are going to be conducted.  I had some concerns so I emailed my federal MP who then told me it was strictly a provincial matter.  Then I find out in a CBC story that Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews had concerns about the for-profit plasma clinics that were supposed to open in Toronto and Hamilton and now wants it reviewed.  The following is a copy of email correspondence with names and locations redacted for privacy reasons, except for the use of the Ontario Health Ministers name and Federal Health Ministers name as they are high profile and well known nationally.
My initial message:

Feb. 26/13

I am writing to you today to voice my concerns about the recent changes that Canadian Blood Services have implemented regarding both blood collection and plasma processing.
Let me start with blood collection. Recently the media has reported that fewer nurses or physicians will be used to screen potential donors and collect blood. This responsibility will be transferred to technicians that do not necessarily have the full medical background to do the job. I am OK with technicians collecting blood however nurses and doctors are specifically trained in how to take a medical history and how to ask questions related to a prospective donors medical history that could not or would not be on the form. I know this was pointed out in media reports as well however, even if they hadn't I would have come to the same conclusions especially after the tainted blood scandal of the 1980's through 1990's. I know these changes will save Canadian Blood Services money, in fact they said as much but trying to do things on the cheap can sometimes lead to unintended consequences as the Canadian Red Cross found out. I certainly hope the Health Minister will reconsider her current position on this matter.
I'll now move on to plasma processing. It is my understanding that two private plasma clinics will begin operations in the near future. For the first time they will monetarily compensate a donor. I am aware it is not illegal to pay for blood in Canada but until recently, it has NOT been the practice to do so. In the tainted blood scandal inquiry, it was strongly recommended that Health Canada actually write a regulation preventing monetary compensation to blood/plasma donors. That recommendation was not implemented but I think it should have been and suggest to you that it should be done as soon as possible before there are any safety or ethical incidents. Avoiding a scandal is better than falling into one.
Thank you for your time.
Response from my MP:
March 5, 2013
Thank you for your email regarding recent changes implemented by Canadian Blood Services. I appreciate hearing your views on this issue.
This matter is one that is looked after by the provincial government. Therefore, I have taken the liberty of copying Mr. , MPP for (my area), and Minister Deb Matthews, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care in Ontario on this email. Their offices will be able to help address the concerns raised in your email below.
Thank you once again for taking the time to write about this important issue.
Response from MPP:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your email forwarded to us by MP office. As you already copied the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, they will respond to your concerns directly.
Thank you for giving us the chance to hear of your concerns.
My response to everyone involved:

First, I would like to thank all of the parties involved in this email communication.
I understand MP's offices position on viewing this as a strictly provincial issue. Coincidently, there is a CBC news story (a link and full copy of this news story is included in this email) about Health Minister Matthews office requesting Health Canada to conduct additional consultations on new private plasma collection clinics. With her office making such a request, obviously the federal Health Minister has been engaged in the matter. As the article states, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is open to feedback from interested parties of which I am one.
Also, in my original email, I raised concerns about the qualifications of the technicians engaging in blood collection specifically switching from nurses to people who have just had basic training on how to draw blood and take family medical histories. Depending on where you live in Canada, this is covered either under federal or provincial jurisdiction. The Health Minister of Ontario's office, at least according to the tone of the article from CBC, seems to be concerned about the arbitrary impact that the Federal Health Minister's decisions may cause on the current blood supply system. In additional media reporting, it has also been pointed out that although it is not illegal for a for-profit blood/plasma collection clinic to operate in Canada, the royal commission that looked into the tainted blood scandal urged the provinces and federal government to actually make it illegal. At the federal level, that was never done and at the provincial level, I am currently not aware of any province or territory that has made it illegal. Since Minister Matthews is concerned about the impact these clinics have on the voluntary blood donor system, she could theoretically ban the opening of the clinics until consultations have been completed. A coherent direction from all parties involved would be nice. At the moment, it doesn't look like anyone knows what they are doing. I have a federal MP who tells me it is strictly a provincial issue. In the national press, we have Minister Matthews office requesting that Minister Aglukkaq's office/Health Canada, hold off on approving the plasma clinics operational permit. There are some provinces like Alberta who are not interested in private clinics of this type at all.
Mixed messages are not good and thats how very bad mistakes can be made.
Thank you all for your time. I will be expecting and look forward to a response from whichever level of government wants to reply however a position from everyone would be nice. Please read the CBC article in its entirety.
Following is the link and a copy of the full CBC news story.
I am looking forward to a reply from any or all involved.  In the actual email I included a copy of the CBC article for the parties and their staff to read.