Health Canada has quietly approved an application by Canadian Blood Services (CBS) to change their blood donor screening model after a two-year pilot project, CBC News has learned.

The new model, approved by Health Canada on Nov. 6, will see "multi-skilled clinic employees" perform all clinic functions –from inserting a needle into a vein to donor screening – instead of a registered nurse.

What began as a pilot project in 2009, the Donor Care Associate model, is intended to free up registered nurses, who are in short supply, to do other work.

According to the CBS, this model is in use by other blood operators in the U.S. and the U.K.

Debbie Rempel , the Manager of Donor and Clinic Services Support at Canadian Blood Services, told CBC News the blood donor screening standards haven't changed.

"We haven't changed how we screen a blood donor, all we've really changed is who's doing the work," Rempel said.

But Vicki McKenna, vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association’s, told CBC News the new model raises public safety concerns.

A person's "health history is not as clearly defined as a questionnaire. Often the assessment of a donor is maybe a key word or phrase they use, which would cause a nurse to delve further into their health history," McKenna said.

Canadian Blood Services is a not-for-profit, charitable organization, whose mission is to manage the blood and blood products supply for Canadians outside of Québec.

CBS was created after the tainted blood scandal of the 1980's where thousands of Canadians contracted HIV and hepatitis C through blood transfusions from infected blood.

Report kept under wraps

Douglas Elliott who represented the Canadian AIDS Society, from 1993 to 1997, before the Krever Inquiry on the blood system in Canada pushed for a better and safer blood supply system then.

Today, Elliott is concerned about the motives behind these changes.

"I don't see how replacing [registered] nurses improves safety. It can reduce costs," said Elliott, now a founding partner with the litigation firm of Roy Elliott Kim O'Connor LLP based in Toronto.

"There's nothing wrong with an efficient, cost-effective blood system but you have to be sure that you're not putting cost-savings ahead of safety," Elliott said.

An analysis of the pilot project which included over 20,000 donors showed "there was no compromise of safety through the screening of donors with trained individuals other than an registered nurses," according to a press release by the CBS.

But the results of that analysis have not been made public and Health Canada has yet to make an official announcement about the donor screening changes.

"We have the safest blood supply system in place," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told CBC News in Iqaluit last Friday.

The new system "expands the scope of practice of other professionals who are just as capable as [registered nurses], and frees up the nurses in other areas," Aglukkaq said.

The new model is expected to roll out across the country over the coming months.

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