Hold approval on paid blood plasma clinics, Ottawa urged

Health Canada should hold off on approving blood clinics that pay people for their plasma, Ontario's health minister said.

Impact on Canada's voluntary blood system unclear

Blood plasma is the straw-coloured liquid portion of blood traditionally used for transfusions or hemophilia drugs. It can also be processed into immunoglobulin, an intravenous drug for cancer and other diseases. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

Health Canada should hold off on approving blood clinics that pay people for their plasma, Ontario's health minister says.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews asked her federal counterpart on Monday to hold off approving two clinics in Toronto and one in Hamilton planned by Canadian Plasma Resources.

"As health regulators and care providers, I strongly believe that before Canada considers allowing paid-donor blood plasma clinics to proliferate throughout the country, we first need to develop a better understanding of the impact that this development would have on our voluntary blood products donor system," Matthews wrote.

"I am confident that Canadians will continue to voluntarily donate blood, plasma and platelets for altruistic reasons, rather than financial incentives. I also believe it would be irresponsible to allow a shift towards a paid-donor system without first determining how it could impact the supply of blood and blood products. I think we owe it to Ontarians and Canadians to have that discussion before any approvals are granted."

It would be irresponsible to shift towards a paid-donor system without understanding the implications first, said Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq responded to CBC News in an email from Yellowknife.

"Canada has one of the safest blood systems in the world, and I want to help keep it that way," Aglukkaq said. "While this application is under review, I've instructed Health Canada to seek the views of individuals and organizations who are interested in this issue."

Last month, CBC News reported that Canadian Plasma Resources is setting up paid-donor blood plasma clinics in Toronto. Once up and running, anyone who passes a screening questionnaire would be hooked up to a machine to have their plasma collected and in return receive $20. 

Plasma is a component of blood that contains proteins that can be used to treat diseases. It can be donated up to twice a week.

Blood experts raised concerns about the "slippery slope" that could divert volunteer blood donors to the paid system.

Matthews also said her ministry is evaluating what tools the government might have to ensure no paid-donor clinics open in the province before consultation.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne also said his province does not support paying for blood or plasma.

Last Wednesday, the federal New Democrats raised concerns during question period. Health critic Libby Davies called profit-making brokers one of the causes of the tainted blood disaster that left 20,000 Canadians infected with HIV and hepatitis C. 

Canadian Blood Services has said it has no plans to purchase plasma from the new operation.

"Voluntary donations should be maintained and protected," reads a memorandum of understanding between the provinces and Canadian Blood Services.

With files from CBC's Kelly Crowe