On behalf of the board of directors of Canadian Blood Services, I am pleased to present this 2018–2019 annual report to Canadians.
It was a year marked by significant achievements, both within our organization and across the many dimensions of Canadian health care where we have an impact. What our various programs and initiatives share in common is a fundamental concern for patients — the people who depend on our products and services to sustain and improve their lives. Ensuring their health and wellness is the ultimate goal of everything we do.
This commitment to enabling better patient outcomes is a cornerstone of Keeping the Promise, our 2019–2024 strategic plan, which we shared with Canadians during the past year. It is the product of extensive consultations with many of our stakeholders, as well as in-depth research into the forces and trends that will shape our operating environment in the years ahead. The board was closely engaged in the development of this strategic framework, collaborating with senior management to identify key goals and the priorities we must pursue to reach them. With a comprehensive new strategy in place, we believe that Canadian Blood Services is well positioned to address emerging health-care challenges while remaining responsive to patients’ needs and expectations.
Implementing our plasma strategy
A crucial area of focus for the next five years and beyond is ensuring a secure supply of Canadian plasma for patients who depend on immune globulin (Ig) and other plasma-derived products. The potential for shortages and dramatic price increases driven by rising global demand presents a significant risk to Canada’s health systems.
As a first step in addressing this, in 2019 we negotiated an agreement with the provincial and territorial governments that provides funding for three proof-of-concept plasma donor centres. Operating within our voluntary, non-remunerated donation model, these initial sites will pave the way for a national collection network designed to increase domestic capacity and reduce our dependence on U.S. plasma providers, who are struggling to keep up with demand. This is a vital step forward for Canadian patients.
Responding to the needs of donors
Another focus of our five-year strategy is to deepen relationships with donors, building engagement while reinforcing our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Whether we’re reaching out to recent immigrants or Indigenous peoples, or to refugees with unique health challenges or to ethnic communities that are under-represented in our stem cell registry, we work to strengthen trust by being sensitive to differences in values, expectations and points of view.
One area of donor engagement where we saw progress during the past year was the ongoing discussion around blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men (MSM). In May 2019 we announced that Health Canada had approved our request to reduce the waiting period for MSM donors from one year to three months.
It is important to see this latest adjustment of a sometimes-controversial policy in its larger context. To meet Canadian patients’ transfusion and transplantation needs, we depend first and foremost on people who generously give blood. And because there is significant annual turnover in the pool of donors, we try as much as possible to keep restrictions to a minimum. However, our number 1 priority remains ensuring the safety of the blood supply. Therefore, any proposed revision of eligibility criteria — whether in dialogue with MSM blood donors or, more recently, with the transgender and nonbinary-gender communities or, indeed, with any potential donors — must be supported by rigorous scientific evidence. It also must be acceptable to groups representing patients who rely on blood and blood products. And it must meet the regulatory requirements of Health Canada.
This latest change in MSM eligibility, having met those three tests, is the next available step in the evolution of our donation criteria. It will not be the last.
As Canada’s population grows and changes, our systems and practices will keep on evolving to ensure that all Canadians can be potential beneficiaries of our work. By the same token, we know that every Canadian is also a potential contributor. That side of the equation may not be as widely appreciated, perhaps because the blood system, like many successful systems, tends to be taken for granted. But paradoxically, to maintain that success, we must regularly remind Canadians of the vital role they play — as donors, registrants and volunteers — in making our work possible.
Honouring our founding principles
Canadian Blood Services has a clearly defined vision: To help every patient, to match every need, to serve every Canadian. This simple statement of purpose was an outcome of our brand-renewal initiative, another noteworthy achievement of the past year. As Graham Sher, our chief executive officer, underlines in his message in this annual report, a brand is far more than a logo. It is the distillation of who we are, the values we embrace and the goals we are working to achieve on behalf of Canadians. The rebrand project was an opportunity to remind stakeholders of our leadership in maintaining “Canada’s lifeline,” and to highlight the fact that our scope of responsibility has evolved beyond whole blood collection to encompass plasma, stem cells, and organs and tissues.
The Canadian Blood Services brand has been revitalized, but it rests on the bedrock that has supported our organization for more than 20 years: the principles outlined by Justice Horace Krever, whose Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada led to our founding. Those guiding principles were restated in the memorandum of understanding and ministerial guidelines we have operated under since 1998. And now they have been updated in a new National Accountability Agreement, which formally establishes the governance framework for Canadian Blood Services and the provincial and territorial governments that fund our operations. We expect that the draft agreement, having been approved by all parties, will be formally adopted in the coming year.
The key achievements I have touched on here are described in greater detail in the annual report, along with many other initiatives of 2018–2019. The progress we are seeing on multiple fronts is a testament to the continued strong leadership of the executive team and to the talent and dedication of Canadian Blood Services employees, who work every day to translate strategy into action. As board members and as Canadians, we are proud to be part of this collaborative effort, helping to ensure that health systems across the country receive safe, effective products and services — and that patients receive the best possible treatment and care.
Chair, Board of Directors