A private member’s bill that will allow private companies to pay Albertans for their blood and plasma has passed three readings in the Alberta legislature.
Bill 204: the Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act was introduced by Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao and repeals protections the NDP placed on blood products back in 2017.
The NDP’s legislation banned private companies from buying blood and plasma, protecting the free donation system that’s existed for decades under Canadian Blood Services.
Now, once the bill is proclaimed, businesses will be allowed to set up shop in the province, and pay for blood and/or plasma.
Currently, there is a global shortage of plasma as it’s being used in medications to help people with illnesses such as hemophilia.
“We want to allow the biopharmaceutical companies to access the product, which is plasma and they can then turn that into medications, which we, in turn, buyback,” Yao explained.
He hopes that by lifting the ban, those international companies will set up shop in Alberta, and grant Canadians access to a locally sourced supply of plasma medications.
“Currently, Alberta buys about $150 million annually on this product for about 8,000 Albertans,” Yao said.
He mentioned his interest in commercializing plasma collection stems from the death of two young friends, who needed treatments and medications that were made in the USA.
Yao explained that only five countries in the world currently allow people to be paid for plasma donations, including the United States and Germany.
The MLA said he personally donates blood through Canadian Blood Services, and would not be interested in exchanging his plasma for money. He’s not concerned about how private enterprise might negatively impact the voluntary blood and plasma supply, saying that hasn’t happened in other countries.
“I have faith in our society and in Canadians that Canadians will continue to donate their blood for the purposes of our public healthcare system.”
But the CEO of Canadian Blood Services, Dr. Graham Sher, presented to the standing committee on private member’s bills in July 2020, saying he doesn’t share that sentiment.
Sher noted that while already opened pay for plasma clinics in Saskatoon and Moncton haven’t resulted in a decrease in free, public donations in those cities, it could happen if the industry grows.
“We are not concerned about one or two small plasma collectors. It is the rapid expansion of the very large scale, commercial plasma industry that absolutely does have the potential to encroach on the voluntary blood sector.”
He also argued that the private companies buying plasma are not alleviating strains on Canada’s plasma medication levels. Instead of alleviating local concerns, he said this model benefits the global plasma market.
“We do not believe that the repeal of the voluntary blood donations act addresses domestic security of supply.”
That’s a fear shared by the United Nurses of Alberta, which represents 75 staff at Alberta’s Canadian Blood Services centres.
“The pay for plasma collectors have a global market and the products will go to the highest bidder,” said president Heather Smith.
She called Bill 204 a major step backwards.
“The government is putting its ideology and desire to support profiteers above what is actually safe for Albertans and Canadians,” Smith said.
The UNA is also concerned about the potential cost implications for healthcare providers, like Alberta Health Services, if free blood and plasma donations drop off — and need to be purchased at a market dictated rate.
Smith is urging Albertans to speak to their MLAs about the change and try to stop the bill from being proclaimed — a rare move once it’s passed three readings.
“It’s really important that people in this province speak up and say to this government that privatizing any element of our public healthcare is the wrong direction to go.”
In Saskatoon and Moncton, people are paid at least $30 for their plasma, more if they return regularly.
Sher said that plasma leaves the country, being sold to international companies making medications.
He notes Canadian Blood Services does have a plan to address plasma shortages and is opening three dedicated plasma clinics, in Sudbury, Kelowna and Lethbridge.
Sher said that plasma will be manufactured into medicines specifically for Canadians.