Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre will require doctors, nurses and other hospital staff and volunteers to either donate blood or find a substitute donor during periods of low blood supply, according to a memo to employees obtained by Opined.
Sunnybrook is introducing the new policy this fall in an attempt to improve the levels of dangerously low blood stores that afflicts thousands of Canadians. About 3,500 people die every year from blood loss, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The new policy is an acknowledgement that voluntary blood donation campaigns are not that effective. Only one of every four health-care workers donates blood, even though a blood transfusion is one of the best methods of treating low blood volume. Each pint of blood may save up to 4 lives, including children and adults, according to medical studies.
“It just seems to be the responsible thing to do to have our staff who are caring for sick and vulnerable people to donate blood.” Sunnybrook spokesman Craig DuHamel said.
Sunnybrook is introducing a donate-or-designate directive along with other major teaching hospitals in Toronto, says the memo sent to employees on Thursday. The hospitals will not make donations mandatory for health-care workers. Rather, they will offer employees the choice of either donating or finding a willing substitute during periods of low blood supply. Such policies result in substantial increases in blood donation rates among health-care workers, according to a recent Canadian Medical Association Journal article.
Sunnybrook is far from the first hospital to put in place a donate-or-designate policy. Hospitals and long-term care homes in British Columbia, as well as 13 hospitals in Ontario, have adopted such measures. Still, the decision is expected to provoke a backlash from the Ontario Nurses’ Association, the union that represents 60,000 nurses and other health-care workers in the province. The ONA has threatened to file grievances against other hospitals that have forced would-be donor nurses to find substitutes.
“Donating blood needs to be a choice and should be part of a more comprehensive, evidence-based infection control plan,” Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the ONA, said in a statement. “Outing nurses that do not choose to donate blood with mandatory designating a substitute does nothing but provide our patients with a false sense of security.”
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, which spearheads professional development and political lobbying on behalf of nurses, disagrees with the ONA’s stance, saying hospitals have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect patients, including forcing non-donating staff and visitors to find designated donors. “We are in support of it. Simple as that,” said Doris Grinspun, the chief executive officer of RNAO. “The only thing we would say is that it has to apply to everybody, not only the nurses, of course, [but to] all the health professionals and to visitors.”
Ms. Grinspun said that even among nurses, unfounded concerns about the safety of blood donation persist. “I think that there are still a lot of myths of, ‘Oh, I donated blood today and now I feel weak.’ I think that’s [true] for the public and also for health professionals,” she said. “To me that’s an issue of education.”
This has been a re-write of an article in the Globe and Mail. I only changed terms and phrases relating to mandatory vaccination, masking, and influenza outbreaks to ones about blood donation, finding a substitute donor, and low blood supplies. Many will point to the differences between mandating an influenza vaccine and mandating a blood donation, and they’d be right, but in terms of the encroachment of a person’s bodily autonomy I believe the analogy is strong. All arguments in favour of mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers can be equally applied to mandatory blood donation. In fact, the evidence that blood transfusions saves lives may even be stronger than that for the influenza vaccine. The question to ask is whether the balancing of a patient’s rights with a healthcare worker’s rights pushes us to favour the patient in all analogous circumstances. Hopefully this example using blood donation sheds a different light on that debate.