Blood donations are in decline in eastern Austria, leaving the Red Cross clamoring for a political solution to avoid “bottlenecks” in the supply chain. The reason is indeed political: a law stipulating that a medical doctor must be present for blood collection, at a time when staff shortages mean some 10 percent of blood drives in Vienna, Burgenland and Niederösterreich have been cancelled. The Red Cross suggests expanding the requirement to include certified nursing staff who could ensure safety and donor fitness. Similar systems are in place in “many European countries with highly developed medical systems,” the Red Cross told Metropole, “proving the reliability of this option.”

An unbroken blood supply chain is critical to the health system: Vienna alone uses nearly 1,900 units per week, the Red Cross said. Across the country, hospitals require 1,000 units a day, or 350,000 a year, collected in tents, busses and offices around the country. The Red Cross’ volunteer-driven program is both visible and trusted: It was judged the country’s most respected among 1,000 compared in a May 2018 study by marketing agency Young & Rubicam. Thus, when they stated that “the long-term security of blood supplies requires a change to the Blutsicherheitsgesetz (Blood Safety Law),” lawmakers listened, and a coalition of the conservative ÖVP, social democratic SPÖ and the NEOS said they were proposing just such an amendment.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Ärztekammer (Medical Chamber) disagrees, saying that only M.D.s are qualified to assess the “eligibility of potential blood donors, and the potential danger [to them].”

Now the Red Cross is attempting to convince the Chamber that their proposal would be just as good, outlining standard procedures and back-up systems that makes doctors available via phone or Skype.

In fact, doctors themselves are already required take extra classes on blood donation and collection because “this topic is neither part of doctors’ medical studies nor their practical training,” the Red Cross points out. Certified staff nurses – who currently carry out the actual collection – receive the same training, thus ought to be able to play the same role. “In Austria,” they wrote, “there has never been a single incident that would have justified the mandatory presence of a medical doctor.”

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Naomi Hunt is a managing editor at Metropole, with roots in the U.S. and Malaysia that have long been buried under Austrian soil. She previously served as a program manager at the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) and was a Senior Press Freedom Adviser at the International Press Institute (IPI).