03/11/2013 02:25 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Ontario asks Ottawa to hold off approval of for-pay blood plasma clinics

TORONTO - Ontario is raising concerns about new clinics that would pay people to provide blood plasma, saying Health Canada should delay any approvals until it has consulted the provinces and other groups.

The prospect of three paid-donor blood plasma clinics being set up in the province is a cause for concern, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said Monday in a letter to her federal counterpart.

It "would be irresponsible to allow a shift towards a paid-donor system without first determining how it could impact the supply of blood and blood products," she wrote to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

"I think we owe it to Ontarians and Canadians to have that discussion before any approvals are granted."

Aglukkaq said Health Canada will consult before granting any approvals.

"Canada has one of the safest blood systems in the world, and I want to help keep it that way," she said in a statement.

"While this application is under review, I've instructed Health Canada to seek the views of individuals and organizations who are interested in this issue."

The move came after Aglukkaq's caucus colleagues and other stakeholder groups raised concerns about the clinics, said Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for the minister.

"People are definitely raising some concerns about this," he said. "So we want to have the opportunity to hear what people have to say, and respond and explain the process a bit better and hear their concerns."

Winnipeg-based drugmaker Cangene, which has been operating for decades, is authorized to pay donors for blood plasma, which is used in its products.

Plasma is a component of blood that contains many proteins and can be used to treat diseases.

Canadian Plasma Resources, which lists three plasma-donor clinics in Toronto and Hamilton on its website, requires Health Canada approval before it can open its doors.

On its website, the company says it will "compensate" people for blood plasma.

"We have several options for you, including payment by direct deposit into your bank account, cheque, or prepaid Visa cards," it says.

Plasma donations from high school students can also count towards their volunteer hours, it says.

Canadian Plasma Resources could not immediately be reached for comment.

In her letter, Matthews said she's looking at ways to stop any paid-donor clinics from opening in the province "prior to engaging Ontarians first."

She noted that the final report into the tainted blood scandal recommended that blood donors shouldn't be paid for their donations, except in rare circumstances.

Thousands of people in Canada were infected with HIV and hepatitis C after receiving tainted blood transfusions in the 1980s.

The federal government launched a public inquiry in 1993 to look into the scandal.

Justice Horace Krever spent four years in his investigation and made 50 recommendations when he issued his report in 1997. Among them were tighter rules for blood services and no-fault compensation for the victims.