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Health

Canadian Blood Services in talks around paid donations of plasma as supply dwindles

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By Christopher Reynolds

Canadian Blood Services is in talks with companies that pay donors for plasma as it faces a decrease in collections.

The blood-collection agency issued a statement on Friday saying it is in “ongoing discussion with governments and the commercial plasma industry” on how to more than double domestic plasma collection to 50 per cent of supply.

Canadian Blood Services has previously cautioned that letting companies trade cash for plasma — a practice banned in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec — could funnel donors away from voluntary giving.

The bulk of the non-profit agency’s supply currently comes from abroad, including via organizations that pay donors.

It issued a plea earlier this week for donors to book and keep appointments, noting collections have been falling since July 1 despite a constant need for plasma in transfusions for surgery, cancer patients and accident victims.

The number of people who donate blood regularly dropped by 31,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the organization with its smallest donor base in a decade, it said.

The agency has opened five new plasma donor centres in the last few years, with six more planned by 2024 in an effort to draw 25 per cent of its supply from Canadian donors.

“But this only gets us halfway there. More needs to be done,” Canadian Blood Services said in the statement.

Working with private partners may offer one way to reach the 50 per cent threshold.

“Any options considered must necessarily include controls to ensure plasma collected in Canada is used exclusively to manufacture immunoglobulins for patients in Canada, while also ensuring no negative impacts on Canadian Blood Services’ current and future blood and plasma collections network,” the agency said.

Provinces have jurisdiction over whether paid donations are allowed. But any plasma protein product — chiefly immunoglobulins, which contain antibodies against diseases — must also get the green light from Health Canada before hitting hospitals.

Health Canada, which oversees the country’s blood system, has previously said Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec are the two organizations approved to distribute those products. So all paths to deployment of a private company’s plasma would go through them, and require a commercial agreement.

Canadian Blood Services said Monday it had only four days’ worth of O+ blood type supply and five days’ worth of O- and B- blood types.

The O- type is the one most commonly used in transfusions for traumas and emergency surgeries, since anyone can receive its red blood cells. The O+ blood type is also in high demand due to its compatibility with any other positive red blood cell.

Spokeswoman Delphine Denis said at the time that ongoing illness and isolation requirements related to COVID-19, heat-related weather issues and the return of pre-pandemic activities and summer travel that have left many people with less time to donate are all factors contributing to the shortage.

There are 57,000 open appointments that must be filled before the end of August across Canada, the agency said.

Canadian Blood Services operates a national inventory that allows products to be regularly shifted around the country to meet hospital and patient needs.

But the inventory has a shelf life — a year for frozen plasma, 42 days for red blood cells and five days for platelets — so it takes some work to ensure supply continues to meet demand.

Before the pandemic, the agency said some 400,000 Canadians gave blood on a regular basis.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2021.

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Alberta

Alberta considers training doctors for rural practice in smaller centres

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Calgary – Alberta is looking for ways to train doctors in smaller cities in hopes they will be more likely to help relieve a shortage of physicians in rural areas.

Health Minister Jason Copping and Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides say the government is providing $1 million to four Alberta post-secondary institutions to look for ways to train doctors in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.

Alberta has medical schools at universities in Edmonton and Calgary, but Copping says training doctors outside the big cities increases the odds of graduates practising in the province’s smaller municipalities.

Todd Anderson of the University of Calgary’s medical school says there are a wide variety of options being considered, including stand-alone schools.

The University of Lethbridge and Northwestern Polytechnic in Grande Prairie are also involved in the program.

Anderson says research suggests three-quarters of doctors who train in rural areas end up practising in one as well.

Copping says the project will take six to eight years to show results.

“It’s going to take time to set the program up,” he said Thursday. “That’s a long-term strategy. But if you don’t start, you’ll never get there.”

Meanwhile, rural health care continues to experience staff shortages. On Thursday, the Milk River Health Centre Emergency Department announced it would close until Monday due to a doctor shortage.

Nurses were to remain on-site to provide care for long-term care residents.

Copping said Thursday’s announcement was just one part of the government’s health-care strategy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Alberta

Province hopes new physician training in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie will mean more rural doctors

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Addressing rural physician shortages

To help bring more physicians to rural Alberta, Alberta’s government is working to offer physician training in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie. 

Alberta has the best front-line health-care workers in the world, and Alberta’s government is working to ensure that Albertans have access to the care they need, when and where they need it. Rural Albertans are disproportionately affected by the nation-wide shortage of healthcare workers and their community members cannot access physician training close to home.

Alberta’s government is investing $1 million to explore ways that regional post-secondary institutions, such as the University of Lethbridge and Northwestern Polytechnic, can help deliver medical education outside of Edmonton and Calgary. Research shows that positive learning experiences in rural health-care settings lead to more physicians choosing to pursue careers in rural areas.

“Over the past year, we’ve made strategic investments to address health care labour shortages, including through the largest expansion of post-secondary seats in Alberta’s history. Partnering with Alberta’s two medical schools and institutions in northern and southern Alberta to train doctors locally is the best path to ensuring we meet rural needs.”

Demetrios Nicolaides, Minister of Advanced Education

The funds will be used by the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and Northwestern Polytechnic to support collaborative planning. This will include detailed plans to support regional health professions training centres in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.

“Expanding medical training in rural areas creates new opportunities for students who want to remain in their communities while making other students familiar with regions of the province and types of work they may not have considered before. Expanding training opportunities is just one way we’re addressing the shortage of rural doctors to ensure Albertans get the care they need when and where they need it.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

Plans for rural training opportunities include hands-on learning experiences in rural communities surrounding regional hubs. These opportunities will support the recruitment of physicians to teach and train medical students and residents, while increasing access to physician services.

“An investment in rural medical training is a direct investment in the future of rural and remote health in Alberta. We look forward to building on our existing relationships with partners across Alberta and significantly expanding the opportunities for future health professionals to learn and enter practice outside our largest urban centres, toward the goal that drives everyone involved in the health professions in this province — readily available, easily accessible, world-class health care for all.”

Dr. Brenda Hemmelgarn, dean, University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

“We at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine are excited about working collaboratively with our colleagues across the province to provide innovative educational solutions for health workforce shortages particularly in the rural areas. There are many factors and initiatives required to help the situation and expanding physician training capacity in Alberta post-secondaries can lead to a healthier population.”

Dr. Todd Anderson, dean, University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine

This funding is the latest investment from Alberta’s government to ensure students have access to the education, training and skills students need to succeed in tomorrow’s economy. At the same time giving confidence to industry, businesses and investors that regional workforce needs will be met.

Previously in Budget 2022, Alberta’s government announced the targeted enrolment expansion initiative which invested more than $171 million into Alberta’s post-secondary system to create nearly 10,000 new seats over three years in high-demand programs. More than 2,400 of those new seats were in nursing, health care aide and paramedic programs.

Alberta’s government has also signed a new agreement with the Alberta Medical Association. This includes $15 million annually to support physician recruitment and retention for physicians who practise full-time in underserved areas, an additional $12 million annually for the Rural Remote Northern Program, and a one-time investment of $2 million to increase funding for the existing RESIDE program that provides incentives for family physicians to practise in Alberta’s underserved rural and remote communities.

Quick facts

  • There are two medical schools in Alberta, located at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary.
  • The Ministries of Health and Advanced Education are jointly responsible for the education of physicians in Alberta. Advanced Education is responsible for undergraduate medical education. Health is responsible for postgraduate medical education or residency training, including international medical graduates, rural medical programs, resident physician compensation, and the Academic Medicine and Health Services Program.
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