HALIFAX - The agency that operates Canada's blood donor clinics is planning to make it easier for older donors to give blood, saying it will introduce changes this fall that will lift some eligibility restrictions on new and dedicated donors alike.
Canadian Blood Services says the changes include dropping a requirement that all first-time donors 61 years of age and older submit a doctor's letter confirming they are fit to give blood.
As well, the agency says it will scrap the same requirement for repeat donors between the ages of 67 and 71 who have not donated in the past two years, and for repeat donors 71 and over who are currently required to get an annual physician assessment.
"We are looking at making changes to that policy whereby that (doctor's letter) will no longer be required," said Mark Donnison, vice-president of donor relations. "We're looking at a number of different steps to make the blood donation effort more convenient for people."
There are about 420,000 blood donors in Canada at any given time, but Donnison said the non-profit agency has to work hard at recruitment to maintain that level. On average, about 170,000 donors drop out every year, either because they have to or they choose to stop.
Older donors are important because they tend to give more blood. A third of all donors are over 50, but that group produces about 45 per cent of donations, said Dr. Mindy Goldman, medical director, donor and clinical services.
"We now have quite a lot of experience with older donors and we now see that we do not need an extra medical assessment on these donors," she said in an interview.
Goldman said all donors are routinely asked relevant health questions at clinics, making a separate medical inquiry unnecessary.
Under the existing eligibility rules, the required doctor's letter confirms whether an older donor is fit enough to tolerate donations of 500 millilitres of blood at intervals of 56 days or less, or more frequent donations of up to 500 ml of plasma and/or platelets.
The letter goes on to say: "Please consider if this patient has any cardiovascular condition or other disease that may affect his or her ability to tolerate donation. Final eligibility determination rests with Canadian Blood Services."
Donnison said the eligibility requirements are regularly reviewed.
"We have very leading-edge, very safe criteria in place. We recognize at the same time that there are elements we can work to ... simplify."
Meanwhile, the agency's current blood supply is running low, which is usually the case when the summer months approach and attendance levels dwindle at blood donor clinics.
"We want to reinforce the need for new donors," Donnison said as National Blood Donor Week drew to a close last week. "The ask right now is to make sure we have enough new donors and current donors coming back in to make sure the clinics are filled up."
The agency is using digital tools to reach out to donors, who now can search for donor clinics, book appointments and create reminders though the Canadian Blood Services website, text-messaging service and the GiveBlood smartphone app.
"We're now seeing at least 15,000 appointments being booked monthly using digital tools and that number continues to grow," Donnison said.