Guest Post: Is the Wildrose Party seriously suggesting Alberta permit private blood brokers?

Posted on September 14, 2016, 12:10 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Mr. Justice Horace Krever, who led the Canadian Royal Commission into Canada’s tainted blood scandal. Below: Guest poster Trevor Zimmerman (Ray Domeij photo), Wildrose Health Critic Drew Barnes, Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, and Kat Lanteigne, co-founder of BloodWatch.org.

Guest post by Trevor Zimmerman

Last spring, Wildrose Health Critic Drew Barnes stood up in the Alberta Legislature and tried to rap Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s knuckles for her statement that “paying for essential life-saving blood, plasma, those types of things, makes me quite nervous, actually.”

tz2Mr. Barnes pointed to the unfortunate fact Albertans and other Canadians rely on paid plasma collection now – from the United States – because Canada only currently collects about 30 per cent of its plasma needs voluntarily.

Accusing Ms. Hoffman of “hypocrisy” and of wanting to “get in the way” of improvements to the system for ideological reasons, Mr. Barnes claimed “paid plasma is every bit as safe” as blood products donated by volunteers, and that paying for blood is a “safe, common, widely endorsed and crucially essential practice.”

The Wildrose critic isn’t wrong about the percentage of plasma that comes from the Unites States – but he’s certainly ignoring the recommendations of the Krever Inquiry, which looked into the tainted-blood scandal of the 1980s in which patients received blood contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C. “Donors of blood and plasma should not be paid for their donations, except in rare circumstances,” the report of Mr. Justice Horace Krever’s Royal Commission into the Blood System in Canada recommended in 1997.

drewbarnesThe Krever Inquiry’s advice was mirrored by more recent recommendations from the World Health Organization that countries move toward 100-per-cent voluntary plasma collection by 2020. The same recommendations are already in place for blood used for transfusions, which now have a sustainable, 100-per-cent voluntary source in Canada.

The Wildrose push seems to be in response to intensive lobbying by Canadian Plasma Resources, a Saskatoon-based for-profit company.

Canadian Plasma Resources is now buying plasma from donors in Saskatoon for $25 a pop – paid with a gift card or a charitable donation to get around rules prohibiting cash payments for blood products. The company became controversial in Ontario in 2014 after its plans to profit highly off of plasma collection there became known.

Thanks to advocacy of people like Kat Lanteigne, co-founder of BloodWatch.org, politicians of every stripe in Ontario saw the light. A bill banning the practice was passed in the Ontario Legislature in 2014 with all-party support. If the right-wing Ontario PCs can get behind banning cash-for-plasma schemes, you have to wonder what’s going on at Wildrose HQ!

sarahhoffmanWhat we do know is that paid plasma is a billion-dollar industry. Some call plasma “liquid gold.” Canadian Plasma Resources is lobbying aggressively in all provinces to open its profitable clinics. While we’d hope our official Opposition would be more attentive to the World Health Organization and a Canadian Royal Commission than a for-profit corporate lobby, it isn’t hard to imagine why they came to their conclusions.

It’s worth noting that Canadian Blood Services itself has work to do. Amazingly, CBS does not operate a single plasma donation clinic in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or any of the territories. They’ve left a wide-open hole with no clinic in the entire city of Toronto! So that’s about one third of the Canadian population that does not have convenient access to a voluntary donation clinic – which would account for at least some of the low donation levels we see in Canada.

Canadian Blood Services has also been criticized for its recent labour dispute with employees, and for its questionable consultations with Toyota Motor Corp. about adopting the Japanese automaker’s manufacturing processes. Safe-blood advocates and CBS staff have raised concerns that a manufacturing business model may not be an ideal approach for a health care public service organization.

Many LGBTQ advocates are also rightly upset with Canadian Blood Services over their discriminatory policies prohibiting men who have sex with other men from donating, despite promises from the Trudeau Liberals to lift the ban, which the government rightly called “unscientific.” The situation was made worse with new policies from CBS that target and restrict donations from trans women.

October 10, 2013. Production photos of the play "Tainted" at the Daniel Spectrum Centre in Toronto on October 10, 2013. Photo by Colin O'Connor for GromKat Productions.

To the organization’s credit, and thanks to pressure from health advocates and labour organizations, Canadian Blood Services recognizes the need for improvement in at least some important areas. CBS officials recently announced plans to increase Canadian voluntary donation to 50 per cent of our supply, and made it clear they don’t intend to buy plasma from Canadian Plasma Resources. This means Canadian Plasma Resources will be an export-only business.

This should be an open and shut case. Not only is paid collection against recommendations of bodies like the WHO and the Krever Inquiry, but we won’t even benefit as Canadians from any of the blood broker export clinics operating here.
You’d think a simple concept of Canadian blood and blood products benefiting Canadians would unite all parties in Alberta, as it did in Ontario.

Instead of competing with an aggressive private market, Alberta should be following the lead of Ontario and Quebec’s legislative ban. The NDP Government has yet to commit to this important step, but surely it can be persuaded.

Alberta’s Friends of Medicare has partnered with BloodWatch.org in a tour of Alberta, with stops in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer throughout this week. Details are available on BloodWatch.org. Events are free to the public.

Trevor Zimmerman is Alberta Friends of Medicare’s communications officer, based in Edmonton.

20 Comments to: Guest Post: Is the Wildrose Party seriously suggesting Alberta permit private blood brokers?

  1. September 14th, 2016

    I believe we need to have paid plasma in Canada. I see no reason to be buying plasma from other countries when we could have Canadians as paid donors.

    My feeling is that we are being hypocritical here. There are insufficient donors. We already are paying donors from out of the country. We already therefore have a paid plasma system. We simply do not have a paid plasma system with native donors.

    Plasma obtained from paid donors must meet the health requirements of Canadian authorities or the product would not be used in Canada. Therefore paid plasma is equivalent in safety to the donor plasma we get for free.

    I can’t understand the opposition to the privatization of some of this work. It may be that some laboratory technologists will lose their jobs in the Canadian Blood Services sector but they will be able to get jobs in privatized blood donor businesses. This is one area of the health care system where privatization does not present risks, there will be an increase in the donor pool and they will be from Canadian citizens rather than folks outside of Canada. It’s a win win situation.

    Reply
  2. Guy Quenneville

    September 14th, 2016

    For Christmas someone should get MLA Drew Barnes a book ~ Richard M. Titmuss’s “The Gift Relationship” (a book about paid vs unpaid blood donations) ~ It was first published in 1970 but it’s still in print, because it’s that good. Bottom line Mr Barnes is wrong.

    The more fundamental issue is can you solve social problem through market forces ? Michael J Sandel in his book “What money can’t buy the moral limits of markets” helps us understand this question and Mr. Barnes won’t like it. Bottom line, using market to fix problems will corrupt/degrade the goods they are used to allocate. Another way Sandel puts it, using the market to solve social problems will crowd out other social norms and remake our interactions into the image of the market which bring negative unintended consequences.
    Perhaps somebody should buy this book for the entire Wildrose caucus as well.

    Thank you for raising the alarm on this issue.

    Reply
  3. Chris B

    September 14th, 2016

    Julie Ali makes a compelling argument in favour of paid plasma donations — I would like to know more about why Krever and the WHO are so set against them.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      September 14th, 2016

      Because oftentimes, people selling their blood are desperate, high-risk individuals with a financial motive to lie about their lifestyle and personal health practices, increasing the risk to the safety of the blood supply. Testing for blood-borne viruses is not 100% foolproof, but prescreening can be a backup to testing by limiting the chance a high-risk individual will donate in the first place. Paying for blood defeats that safeguard.

      As a Registered Nurse, I am wholeheartedly opposed to paying for human tissue, which is after all what blood is.

      That said, CBS could also do more to increase the supply of volunteer donors. I used to donate semi-regularly (I hate needles, so it often took a few months for me to get up the nerve to go again), but after CBS stopped coming to my smaller city, I could no longer do so, guts or no guts. And yet, I’ll bet you smaller communities donate at a higher percentage (population-wise) than big cities.

      Reply
  4. anon

    September 14th, 2016

    Private services, as you have learned in seniors’ care are not really regulated at all and there is little to no democratic response. Public services can at least be directed and corrected democratically.

    The only response to a bad private provider is either legal or direct action, both of which are ugly.

    Give Cdn Blood Services notice they can no longer import plasma after a set date and resource them to set up donation sites. Much cheaper than the alternatives

    Reply
  5. Jim

    September 14th, 2016

    Canadian Medicare and the belief of a volunteer only plasma donation system doesn’t have a leg to stand on as long as plasma is purchased from other nations. Nevermind private businesses in Canada exporting to other nations themselves. We Canadians aren’t as morally superior as.we think we are, and that’s okay.

    Reply
  6. Jim

    September 14th, 2016

    Also, the one thing not mentioned anywhere is the “why” payed plasma is “bad?”. Because ‘merica isn’t a valid answer, just as ir increasingly isn’t with Medicare in general. Canadians are becoming increasingly sophisticated and well travelled and can see systems beyond just the US that work better than here.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      September 14th, 2016

      It’s a reasonable to question to ask, but I think some hints have been given in other comments. One big one would be the risk that, over time, the quality of the product would be degraded in the pursuit of profit. Or that, like with all other products exchanged on the open market, there would be bifurcation of quality based on ability to pay; that might be fine with, say, t.v. shows and bubble gum, but lesser quality blood could have disastrous consequences. Sure, government regulations could enforce strict quality control, but if we’ve learned anything from the history of capitalism, where there are big profits to be made, political influence can be bought; indeed, just yesterday we found out that Harvard researchers were paid off by the sugar industry to ignore research that linked their product to heart disease.

      Reply
  7. Tom Agard

    September 14th, 2016

    It is absolute hypocrisy! Especially when we are importing more than 70% of our required plasma products from the same paid plasma model and from nowhere in the United State!!! Currently, our patients completely rely on a foreign country and if any worldwide shortage of plasma happens (considering the yearly increase of worldwide demands, it will happen very soon) their lives will be at risk. Kerever inquiry published 20 years ago and the technology has advanced since then. Canadian Blood Services, Health Canada, patients groups like Canadian Hemophilia Society and CORD support an expansion of paid plasma in Canada and say it would be as safe as volunteer system.
    The opposition groups are mainly unions that think by this private system some of their members will leave and go to the private sector. I think it is not ethical (and it is even shameful) to put our patients lives in danger just because of political reasons.

    Reply
    • Sassy

      September 15th, 2016

      Wow, great article. Everyone here should read it.

      The people in this organization know what they’re talking about. From the news item: “BloodWatch.org is made up of veteran blood advocates, tainted blood survivors and patients. The head lawyer from the Krever Inquiry, who is one of the top blood lawyers in the country, sits on our board. There isn’t much about the blood system or the “business of blood” we don’t understand. Albertans need to know that this is a very serious issue and it is an urgent one.”

      The BloodWatch group has been involved in safety issues since the 1980s tainted blood scandal where almost 8,000 Canadians lost their lives. The NDP government needs to listen to these experts and ignore the opposition (as usual). That includes the federal government who is pushing private, for-profit collection.

      Reply
  8. theo

    September 14th, 2016

    Okay – whole blood donator am I. Plasma not so far. However, Trevor, your statement that there is not a dedicated clinic in BC for plasma collection seems incorrect. The Centre clinic in Vancouver says it has such a service. Please define your definition. I am not going to check the other provinces. I started giving blood in Vancouver at the Centre clinic and I knew they did plasma then going back 40 years.

    As to the good folks blowing smoke about the wonderful work the private industry does with underpaid non-workers. Stay healthy!

    Reply
  9. Telomere

    September 14th, 2016

    More Canadians would donate blood if we didn’t have to drive to a major centre to do so. I’d give (type O positive) blood as often as I could, but I have a 5-hour drive to the nearest donation centre. Why don’t we have a blood mobile anymore? Why can’t we donate at a local clinic?

    Reply
  10. Bernie

    September 14th, 2016

    Wildrose is right on the money here. There’s no reason private blood brokers should be prohibited, in fact they should be encouraged.

    Reply
  11. pogo

    September 14th, 2016

    As usual, our host lobs a high slow straight ball across the plate and every no nothing from here to Haida Guay, starts swinging at it. Listen up! Canadian Blood Services is the result of failed policy and in itself is a classic example of failed management. “Since the 1940s, the blood system had largely been the responsibility of the Canadian Red Cross Society. This independent charitable body supplied donated blood to hospitals or, if the blood was past its expiry date, gave it to Connaught Laboratories, the major producer of blood products in Canada. Connaught had initially been a non-profit company operated by the University of Toronto; by the 1980s it had been sold into the private sector.
    In the late 1970s a crisis emerged. Thousands of people were being infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. It became apparent that inadequately screened blood, often coming from high risk populations, was entering the system.” For those of you who care, you might want to research why our blood became contaminated and you might also give thought to the fact that voluntary donation has had decreasing support from our tax dollars. But feel free to monetize blood. It’s the genius of stupidity that actual smart people (elites) always fail to grasp!

    Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        September 17th, 2016

        I’m very sorry to hear this. I knew Bill Kinsella quite well at one point in my life, when he was a volunteer on the University of Victoria student newspaper that I edited, circa 1973. We gave him a nice pewter beer mug for his work and he went on to bigger and better things.

        Reply
  12. Val

    September 14th, 2016

    interesting reaction and responses. well, when i’m not against paid blood donors, i can’t grab motives/reasons by responders, why such business must be run exclusively by private entities? do you really believe if this all process will run within our healthcare without third party middleman (private entities), the final product, plasma, would be rotten or spoiled, with an outrages price tag?

    Reply
  13. Chris

    September 27th, 2016

    The “Safe-blood advocates and CBS staff” who “have raised concerns that a manufacturing business model may not be an ideal approach for a health care public service organization” don’t know what the TPS is. Just because it’s a system designed by a for-profit car manufacturer doesn’t mean the ideas of TPS – a focus on the people (processing and end-user), continuous improvement of processes, and improve the overall quality of the finished product – wouldn’t be useful in the blood system. Employees now spend less time in unsafe work environments, use a more standardized process to reduce confusion and strain injuries, and make fewer errors – and knowing how TPS works, a number of these changes were probably employee-driven as opposed to a top-down approach. I don’t see how that’s a problem.

    Reply

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