Australia’s only national blood service, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, is attempting to reinvent itself from a vital part of the healthcare system to being a blood manufacturer.

It’s a bold statement but entirely true.

Management at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service is aggressively pursuing a strategy to reduce the involvement of scientists in testing and processing blood donations by introducing new positions at lower pay and conditions; and, more importantly, which require fewer qualifications and experience. Some of the new positions do not even require any qualifications – just an ‘interest’ in the work.

Removing scientist positions and reducing the Red Cross Blood Service’s world-class research capacity will have serious implications for patients, like mismatching of blood for transfusions, threatening the effective screening of blood for viruses and infections and not being able to supply safe blood to people in life threatening situations.

In pursuing this strategy the Red Cross Blood Service has already significantly reduced scientist positions in its Inventory and Distribution division (now called Logistics) resulting in reports from major hospitals of problems with incorrectly labelled blood and urgent deliveries taking longer than the normal 60 minutes for metropolitan locations. These aren’t small technical problems; these are significant problems that put patients’ lives at risk.

It will only be a matter of time before more significant problems arise as scientists are taken out of the testing and processing of blood at the Red Cross Blood Service.

Our blood supply is too important to allow this kind of misguided tampering. At the heart of our blood supply are generous Australians who give blood freely on the understanding that it will find its way, uncontaminated, to those in the greatest need. But what faith can Australians have in a Blood Service that refuses to be seen as a vital part of our healthcare system and wants to be a ‘lean’ manufacturer?

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service is a non-profit essential service funded by the Australian government. It deals in a product donated by Australians keen to ensure that sufficient blood is available for those who need it, when they need it. For haemophiliacs, for victims of road trauma, of industrial accidents and the countless daily needs for blood transfusions, it is the only guardian of a safe, reliable product that Australians can trust because it has been checked and processed by highly-qualified scientists. It does not have a budgetary problem that requires cost cutting.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service seriously needs to rethink its strategy of becoming a manufacturer and keep scientists involved in all aspects of the blood supply to keep blood safe.

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Dr Rosemary Kelly is Secretary of the Medical Scientists Association of Victoria, which represents scientists at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.

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