Foundation and Early History of the Society
The Australian Society of Blood Transfusion (ASBT) was formed out of necessity in 1964, primarily to invite the International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT) to Sydney for a joint ISBT/International Society of haematology (ISH) congress to be held in 1966.
The Society’s inaugural meeting was held on 29 August 1964 in the School of Biological Sciences, University of NSW, Sydney and was attended by 14 people. Dr Edgar Thomson was elected to be the Society’s first President and Dr Gordon Archer was elected as Secretary. The membership subscription was set at four guineas per year.
Dr Edgar Thomson
Dr Gordon Archer
Having accepted ASBT’s invitation to come to Sydney, the ISBT/ISH joint congress was held from 26 to 30 August 1966 and proved to be extremely successful, both scientifically and financially. Of note was the presentation of important research describing the use of plasma-derived anti-D to prevent “Rh haemolytic disease of the newborn”. This lay the groundwork for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service to establish its pioneering “Rh Project”.
Abstracts of Papers and Plenary Sessions books from the ISBT Congress 1966
It was originally intended that the Society would disband after the Sydney congress, but at an extraordinary meeting in 1967 it was decided that the Society would continue, with the resolution to do so passed the 1968 Annual General Meeting (AGM).
Membership growth and diversification
From a small, dedicated group of 14, the Society’s membership continued to steadily grow so that by 1973 it had reached 103 members. By way of contrast, in 2021 our membership stood at 396, with members from across Australia, New Zealand, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Although membership was initially limited to haematologists, the welcome inclusion of members from scientific and nursing backgrounds strengthened the Society and enables it to represent the broad expertise of the transfusion community. The current breakdown of professional affiliation shows scientists comprising 49%, doctors 30% and nurses 15%.
The name and structural changes of the Society
In 1980, it was suggested that the name of the Society be changed from the “Australian Society of Blood Transfusion” to the “Australasian Society of Blood Transfusion” to embrace New Zealand members. This recommendation was accepted at the 1981 AGM.
In 2002 the Society changed name again, to the “Australian and New Zealand Society of Blood Transfusion”, to further acknowledge the significant contribution of New Zealand members. This change was introduced in 2003.
The Society became a registered charity under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) with Health Promotion status in 2019.
Committees and working groups – the engine room of the Society
The strength of the Society lays within its working groups and committees which provide the engine room for many of our activities. The huge commitment of time and expertise given by members serving on these groups is greatly valued.
In 1986 a sub-committee was set up to facilitate “crossmatching guidelines”. Subsequently in 1991, the Scientific Subcommittee was appointed to advise Council, such as on the need for standards and guidelines, to determine the scientific content of our annual meetings and to formulate educational material.
In 1999, Council established its Education Subcommittee with the objective of adding value to our membership through provision of education.
In 2007, Council replaced its existing committee structure and created three new standing committees: Clinical Practice Improvement Committee (CPIC), Education Standing Committee (ESC) and Transfusion Science Standing Committee (TSSC).
The three standing committees continue to embody the aims of the Society, and the high-quality advice and guidelines they provide are widely recognised, not only throughout the medical and scientific community but also by governments.
A significant body of work was undertaken in 1974 when the members asked the ASBT Council to urgently consider the problem of the use of blood and blood components and to set up a working party with representation from the relevant colleges to study this. In 1975, an initial meeting was held with representatives from RACP, RACS, RCOG, RCPA, RACGP who provided written submissions for Council’s consideration on the use of blood and its components within their specialty. This report was widely published in 1977 with 10,000 reprints ordered from the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery.
John Gibson and his editorial committee also produced the widely read Topics in Transfusion Medicine publication.
Our first newsletter was distributed in July 1976 which gave notice of the forthcoming AGM, call for subscriptions and nominations to Council and progress of the Working Party. The current newsletter is published quarterly by the Education Standing Committee
Guidelines for promoting improvements in clinical and laboratory transfusion medicine
The Society has established an important role in publishing clinical and scientific transfusion guidelines.
In 1986 the Scientific Subcommittee was the first time that a working party/subcommittee was formed to facilitate the publication of guidelines. The first guidelines, produced by the sub-committee, were the “Guidelines for pre-transfusion testing” released in 1986.
The positive reception to the guidelines and other training materials meant that by 1991, the Society had taken a leading role in developing guidelines, particularly for controversial issues, emerging clinical areas and covering new technical developments in transfusion medicine. To date, the Society has published 12 guidelines.
The Society continues to identify important gaps in knowledge and opportunities to develop new guidelines often in collaboration with other expert groups, professional societies, and health authorities.
The Society was instrumental in recognising the importance of patient blood management (PBM) which led to the first Australian and New Zealand ‘Guidelines on the Appropriate Use of Blood and Blood Products’ published in 2001, jointly badged with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The acceptance of these guidelines was demonstrated by post-implementation studies conducted around Australia the following year.
The NHMRC/ASBT Clinical Practice Guidelines on the Use of Blood Components
The Society has been actively involved in the evolution of PBM and a desire for review of the 2001 guidelines provided the catalyst for development of national PBM guidelines by the National Blood Authority, the first module of which was eventually released in March 2011.
Annual scientific meetings, congresses, and workshops
A major milestone was the Society’s first annual scientific meeting which was held on 21 May 1969 in Adelaide in conjunction with the meeting of the Haematology Society of Australia (HSA) and the SA Section of the College of Pathologists of Australia on the subject of “Prevention of Rh haemolytic disease of the newborn”.
In 1986 Sydney was again host of a joint ISH/ISBT Congress. Interestingly where the 1966 congress took two years to plan this had increased to five years for the 1986 meeting.
ASBT played a significant role in the symposia and plenary sessions mirroring our on-going staunch support given that the Society had been initially formed to provide a base for the Congress that was held in 1966.
Programme of the 1986 ISBT Congress
The value of a joint meeting continues to this day and is reflected by the long-standing and important relationships we share with our sister societies the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ) and the Thrombosis and Haemostasis Society of Australia (THANZ). The three societies jointly hold the annual BLOOD scientific meeting which has become the flagship event for the Australian and New Zealand haematology community.
Establishment and development of the Research Fund
In 1996 Council decided that the Society could make a positive contribution to transfusion research by establishing a Research Fund to provide competitive grants to researchers. The Research Fund was formally established in 2000 with the stated purpose to support research in transfusion medicine and science in Australasia and to promote and develop research in related areas. An independent Research Committee was also formed with responsibility for reviewing grant proposals and recommending suitable projects for funding to Council.
A sum of $30,000 was allocated to fund the first round of projects in 2001. In 2006 the size of the annual grant was increased to $50,000 and is currently $75,000. Since its inception the Research Fund has supported 60 research projects to a total of $955,000.
Relationships with government bodies, partners, and sponsors
The Society has built a strong reputation and is well respected for its independence, provision of expertise and advice in a variety of areas. We value our important working relationships across the transfusion sector including governments and their agencies, the National Blood Authority (NBA), Australian Red Cross Lifeblood, New Zealand Blood Service, specialist colleges, professional societies, and regulatory authorities.
Our expert advice supports multiple areas such as transfusion clinical practice improvement, guidelines development, haemovigilance and research. Expertise within our membership is reflected by the many committees and key projects on which the Society has been (and continues to be) represented. For example, we currently have representatives on 20 leading transfusion-related committees, the full list of which can be found on our website.
Over the years the Society has developed important relationships with our commercial, government and not-for-profit partners. From the outset, the Society has welcomed financial support and sponsorship from pharma and industry for its conferences and travel. Companies including Tuta Laboratories, Travenol Laboratories, Australian Hoechst, Johnson and Johnson and the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories were amongst the early partners to form valuable relationships with the Society.
All our sponsors, past and present, are gratefully appreciated. Those that have supported us in more recent times include:
BloodSafe eLearning Australia
National Blood Authority
To conclude, in 1999 when our first strategic plan was approved, the Society’s objectives were described as a commitment to promote the highest standard of practice in transfusion medicine, to provide a forum for communication and representation, and to promote highest quality teaching and research.
Although the words may change, our mission today echoes that earlier plan and we strive to define and promote best practice in clinical and laboratory transfusion medicine, to engage with stakeholders in all areas of transfusion through communication, representation, and advocacy and to promote and support education and research.
Looking to the future, the Society will endeavour to remain a vital presence in the field of transfusion medicine, embracing new medical advances and discoveries and evolving changes in health delivery as they occur.