Current Affairs

Downing St defends ban on gay blood

Tony Grew May 18, 2007
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A statement on the Prime Minister’s website claims some gay men flout blood donation guidelines and reveals that 40 donations a year are infected with HIV.

A petition on the site calls for an end to discrimination against gay and bisexual men by the National Blood Service.

HIV is now at its fast growing rate in the heterosexual community but the NBS regard all men who have sex with men as too high-risk to accept blood from.

A statement on the No 10 website responding to the petition says the government has a duty to ensure a balance between risk reduction and security of supply.

The petition, signed by over 500 people, said: “The polices of the NBS are outdated, making decisions as to whether or not your allowed to give blood on how honest you are.”

The official government response on the No 10 site reads:

“The self-exclusion criterion concerning gay men has been reached through a close analysis of the epidemiology of confirmed HIV and Hepatitis B positive tests among blood samples from people donating blood at United Kingdom Blood Service sessions.

“The Government has been advised that every year from the analysis of nearly three million donations collected by the United Kingdom and Irish Blood Services, about 40 donations are confirmed to be positive for HIV.

“Of these, a third to a half are given by men who, following further enquiries by the NBS, reveal that they are gay men.

“These figures indicate that some gay men are still giving blood in spite of the current rules.

“Although safer sex campaigns have had an impact, it is still considered that the risk of gay men being infected with HIV remains sufficiently high to include the criterion that they should not donate blood.

“Unfortunately, this means there will be healthy gay men who would be suitable for giving blood but who are excluded by the rule.

“However, it is not practical to expect donor session staff to be able to differentiate between gay men with lower or with higher risk lifestyles, so all gay men have to be excluded.”

The ban on gay and bisexual men has been removed in many countries, among them Italy, Sweden, South Africa, Portugal and Spain.

Currently, student groups and others are protesting the blanket ban, arguing that it is a person’s behaviour rather than the fact of their sexual orientation that should be used to calculate risk factors.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations, which became law at the start of this month, granted an opt-out for blood donation clinics.

Regulation 28 says that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on grounds of their sexual orientation when he offers to donate blood, unless there is reasonable basis from clinical and epidemiological data to do so.

The Department of Communities and Local Government said that this regulation was added on the advice of the Department of Health.

It appears to allow the National Blood Service to continue to discriminate against all gay and bisexual men.

However, it also leaves the NBS open to a legal challenge as to the efficacy of their clinical evidence that all bi and gay men are at a higher risk of passing on the HIV virus through a blood transfusion.

“It will enable the National Blood Service to maintain its policy on excluding donations by certain groups, including gay men, where this is tied to close and regular monitoring of blood samples from people donating blood in the UK,” a DCLG spokeswoman said about Regulation 28 in March.

Many gay activists were surprised that a regulation was devised specifically to protect the ban on gay blood as it is highly unlikely that giving blood constitutes receipt of a service.

Stonewall, the gay equality organisation, told

“We listen to medical advice on this issue but we are reviewing our policy to consider whether a blanket ban is necessary.

“We would always want to make sure that the most recent developments in medical technology and research are taken into account.

“Some gay men who are turned away are treated badly and even if this ban has to be held up, we would urge that bisexual and gay men should be treated with respect by blood donation staff.”

Click here to view the petition and response.

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