Review of gay blood ban urged amid blood donor ‘crisis’
The government has been urged to review rules banning men who have sex with men from donating blood, amid a critical lack of donors.
A much-publicised ‘Missing Type’ campaign is this week raising awareness of the dwindling blood supplies for National Blood Week, to encourage more people to donate.
However, men who have sex with men are still banned from giving blood – with a 12-month deferral following sexual contact in England, Scotland and Wales, and a permanent ban in Northern Ireland.
Amid the crisis, a number of groups have urged the government to reconsider the process.
Peter Black of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said: “National Blood Week has brought to our attention that the blood service needs 204,000 extra donors to meet demand. Given this huge demand for blood donors, I completely fail to understand why the ban on men who have sex with men giving blood is still in place.
“This ban not only turns away thousands of willing and healthy potential donors, but it also serves to reinforce negative stereotypes about gay and bisexual men. Straight people get HIV too, and all donated blood is tested for HIV and other diseases before being transfused for precisely that reason.
“The sooner this unfair and discriminatory ban is lifted, the sooner our blood services can benefit from a greater supply of donated blood and more lives can be saved.”
Dr Shaun Griffin, Executive Director of External Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust added: “It would seem that at a time when the NHS is facing a much publicised challenge because of a lack of blood donors, with figures plummeting 40 per cent in the last decade, a wider review into all the current restrictions may be timely help to address this.
“There has been no review into the lifetime ban for people who have previously been involved in sex work or who have previously injected drugs.
“It is inequitable and illogical for former sex workers and former injecting drug users to be treated differently from others.
“Therefore there should be a review of all the current restrictions including the deferral period for men who have sex with men, so that we have the most appropriate restrictions based on the best available evidence. As with 2011 we will support any policy decisions that are based on the best available evidence.
“It may well be that some of the restrictions need to be retained, but we must ensure that it is still the appropriate restriction according to the evidence. A fresh, wider, review can guarantee this.”
However, the charity added: “Terrence Higgins Trust would like to see the same regulations for all – but retains the stance that this can only realistically be attained when risks of HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission are reduced to the same level as that of most heterosexuals.”
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in April that it may be justified to indefinitely ban men from giving blood, while hearing the case of a French man who was refused the right to do so.
Though a lifetime ban has been lifted in England, Scotland and Wales, it is not yet abolished across the UK as the Northern Irish DUP refuses to lift the lifetime ban.
The Northern Irish Department of Health recently admitted it does not have any evidence to back up maintaining a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood – but successive Democratic Unionist Party Health Ministers have refused to budge on the issue.
The British Government in January said it was considering whether to conduct a study into whether gay or bisexual men in monogamous, same-sex relationships should still have to wait 12 months after having sex to donate blood.
Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year calling for the gay blood ban to be removed.
On introducing the bill, Mr Fabricant said: “This still does not make sense. It cannot be logical that a gay man practising safe sex with a single partner is banned from giving blood while a straight man having unsafe sex with multiple partners can. There is no logic to this and it is unnecessarily discriminatory.”
Mr Fabricant also this week tabled a question to the Department of Health asking: “What progress has been made in comparative research of the incidence of Hepatitis B and HIV infection in the MSM population and the MSM population in civil partnerships or same sex marriages with respect to the safety of blood donation; and if he will make a statement.”
The Missing Type campaign has already been launched by the NHS in order to attempt to increase donor numbers.