The message was sent out at 4:06 pm on a Friday to staff at Canadian Blood Services. Described as a “developing situation,” Chief Operating Officer Ian Mumford told workers that the previous night the agency issued a recall of 1,500 units of blood used mostly by low birth weight infants and immune compromised patients.
The accompanying press release was posted on CBS’ website, but not on the news release service the agency normally employs.
The recall is the second at Canadian Blood Services within a year, the previous taking place in October when it was revealed donors in Regina had not be subject to all the normal precautionary screening questions. That resulted in a recall of blood donations going back 12 months.
This time it was the Calgary donor testing laboratory that had failed to do routine testing for cytomegalovirus (CMV) – a type of herpes virus. The lapse in testing took place between July 30 and August 2.
According to Wikipedia, this CMV “infection is typically unnoticed in healthy people, but can be life-threatening for the immunocompromised, such as HIV-infected persons, organ transplant recipients, or new-born infants.” That is the target group for the blood product under recall.
CBS says they still have 250 units, which will be relabeled and sent out for general use. and that there are about 400 units remaining on hospital shelves which will be subject to the recall. The rest have either been already used or, according to Mumford, are outdated.
While issuing the recall, CBS says they use a process called leukoreduction to filter out white cells from all donated blood. White cells, according to Mumford, are where the virus resides.
The memo sent to staff also states that 80 per cent of the CMV negative products come from donors who have previously tested CMV negative. Of course, that means one in five presumably wouldn’t have previously tested CMV negative.
The error in Calgary comes at a time when the blood agency is pushing to bring in 50,000 more units of blood by Labour Day, a situation described earlier in August as “especially concerning” by Susan Matsumoto, executive director of Donor and Clinic Services. Matsumoto told the media that CBS had to dig into its national reserves to keep hospitals supplied with needed product over the summer.
While CBS has blamed low turnout for the shortage, the reality is the agency itself had been cutting back clinic hours in its efforts to be more “efficient.” For example, one of two mobile clinics in the Ottawa area has been off the road for most of the summer, taking the equivalent of 20 beds out of circulation. Further, last November the agency warned that they are being squeezed financially by provincial governments and the future will include fewer staff.
For now CBS staff is under great pressure to keep clinics open as long as possible, and professional staff are being asked to show up with as little as eight hours rest between shifts.
Staff is telling the union of burn-out while CBS now publicly claims that the current situation is no different from previous years.
Spokesperson Ron Vezina told the Toronto Star over the weekend that the amount of pressure staff was under is “a matter of perspective.”
Of course, the staffing situation has not been at the forefront of senior executives, a number of whom have been in Africa climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise $500,000 towards the $12.5 million needed to set up a national cord blood bank. This is despite the fact that CBS already receives $1 billion in public funding mostly from member provinces.
With reports of staff burn-out, two major blood recalls in 10 months, and a self-inflicted shortage described as “especially concerning,” Canadians should be asking themselves what the future will look like and how safe it will be with an even smaller Canadian Blood Services?