01/13/2012 09:00 EST | Updated 03/14/2012 05:12 EDT

New Brunswick government drops fight to maintain full blood centre in Saint John

FREDERICTON - The New Brunswick government is giving up its fight to keep Canadian Blood Services from moving blood production work to Halifax, a reversal in position that comes after repeated efforts to have the service remain in the province.

Health Minister Madeleine Dube announced Friday that the government would maintain its relationship with the blood agency, citing a need to be fiscally prudent.

"Our province is in a precarious financial situation," Dube told a news conference.

"The operational costs and potential liabilities associated with establishing our own blood agency are far too risky for us to take on."

For months, the government tried to block the move from Saint John, N.B., going so far as to ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene. He declined, saying the federal government doesn't have a role in operational decisions by Canadian Blood Services.

The government also sought public input on the issue last year after releasing a $350,000 study that concluded the Canadian Blood Services move to Halifax would be preferential for New Brunswick.

The review conducted by KPMG examined whether the province should remain in partnership with Canadian Blood Services, create a new blood agency or partner with another blood agency in Quebec.

It estimated start-up costs of between $27 million and $40 million to start a new agency, and between $22 million and $35 million to partner with another blood agency. Both options would also have had ongoing costs that the province doesn't have to pay by staying with Canadian Blood Services.

Canadian Blood Services plans to move blood production by the end of the year. It is keeping blood collection, storage and distribution in Saint John.

Dube said the government's decision still fulfills a campaign promise to ensure blood services are offered and located in the province.

"We did say that we want to make sure that people have access at all times, in every corner of this province, to quality, safe blood," she said. "This is exactly what is happening."

Liberal health critic Bill Fraser disagreed.

"Their promise was to maintain this facility in full force in the city of Saint John, and we find out here today that's not going to happen," he said. "It's another broken promise of David Alward and the Saint John MLAs."

Fraser said the Conservative government didn't work hard enough to keep the facility intact, and should have included the Liberals in their efforts.

But Dube said she's comfortable that the government did all it could to keep all the existing services of the blood agency in New Brunswick.

Dr. Graham Sher, the CEO of Canadian Blood Services, said the government's decision to stay with the agency is in the best interests of the province.

"We are grateful the government has taken the time to do its due diligence and we acknowledge the time that they've taken," he said in an interview.

Dube said the province will work with the New Brunswick Medical Society to monitor Canadian Blood Services to ensure they maintain or enhance the quality and level of service in the province.

Sher said he welcomes the additional monitoring.

"We think having a monitoring system in place is good for the medical community, it's good for the government and it's good for us," he said.

The move of blood production is expected to eliminate about 17 full-time positions in Saint John. But Dube said Canadian Blood Services may add some other jobs in the city by locating a call centre there.

Sher said Saint John is one of the locations being considered for a small call centre that would serve as a backup to their major call centre in Sudbury, Ont. He said the facility would require about 40 employees and a decision is expected within a few months.