Your blood bank needs you! (Gay men need not apply)

A few years back I had a humiliating encounter with a blood donation centre nurse that was less Carry On and more stop right there. I didn’t faint at the sight of a needle, the usual source of embarrassment one imagines, I didn’t get that far. The nurse, having read the questionnaire I had carefully and honestly filled in, told me I simply was not eligible to give blood.

Why? Because I’m ‘a man who has ever had oral or anal sex with a man, with or without a condom.’

For most of us, this issue-skirting statement, as quoted from the questionnaire, is merely defining the lifestyle choice of most gay men.

Not one to play the ‘pink card’, I went home to lick my wounds but that process left a very bitter taste in my mouth that became more pungent this week when I heard the NHS Blood and Transplant bemoaning the decline in young people giving blood by 20 per cent.

Reasons cited for this were; time, fear of needles and process but NHS Blood and Transplant Director, Jon Latham, speaking on the BBC’s Today programme this week, never once suggested it might be something to do with a rise in young people identifying themselves as gay.

I understand that giving blood is a serious business and patients should not be put at risk for the sake of political correctness.

Indeed, Latham said: ‘The overarching point is that we must guarantee whoever has the blood has safe blood, that’s our duty of care.’

But there must also be blood.

Having looked at the statistics it seems to me that the policy effectively preventing gay men from giving blood is an outmoded one.

There has been a decrease in the number of men having sex with men being diagnosed with HIV in the UK, whilst a steady and continued increase in HIV diagnoses has been recorded in the heterosexual community.*

I think it is also important to note that all blood donated is tested using the fourth generation test, a combination of P24 antigen tests with standard antibody testing, which is so reliable that the error value is too small to allocate as a percentage, according to NHS Blood and Transplant. In addition, further tests are carried out on randomly selected samples.

There is currently a review going through parliament looking at potential changes in the current policy but as Latham noted in the interview: ‘The current Government advice through their health body is that we defer.’

Not rocket science Jon, but the truth is, the harder that the process is made, the less likely individuals are to come forward to partake as, let’s face it, it’s hardly an experience one enjoys.

So, as someone who happens to be an actively gay man and wants to offer up my valuable O negative blood, to NHS Blood and Transplant, focus your energies on affecting change in policy instead of complaining about dwindling donors and the numbers will follow. Nobody likes a whiner.

*Terrence Higgins Trust

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7 Responses to Your blood bank needs you! (Gay men need not apply)

  1. Amy says:

    Marvellous stuff. As a blood giver myself, I normally rave on about how important it is to give blood. But being of the non-male or gay variety, I never really think about not being able to give it (except when I’ve had my ears pierced again!) due to your sexual choices. It seems to be a more than slightly outdated rule when all of the post-blood donating tests are so stringent…let’s live in hope that someone ‘”senior” out there stumbles across your post and decides to act on your last paragraph!

  2. Fi says:

    I would like to give blood too, but for different reasons diabetics aren’t allowed to. Which is ironic, given how used to needles we are. Alanis Morisette really should have included this example in her song…

  3. Kim says:

    I really should become a blood giver and have absolutely no excuse not to! Anyone that goes to the effort of donating their blood, which as you said… Is not the nicest experience, should not be turned away. If they’re as desperate as they make out they are then unwarranted selective-ness should not be an option! Beggars can’t be choosers after all!

  4. This is very good – not giving blood as a political issue. I am also excluded on the grounds that I had a blood transfusion in 1981 after a road traffic accident. The fact that the transfusion took place in France (never knowingly the home to BSE) and that I have been in thankfully good health ever since (and indeed gave a fair bit of blood before they realised I was such a risk) is irrelevant. The gay ban on blood donation is serious both practically and politically but this over caution when tests are there to screen, feels kind of wrong. Also, lets not forget, those most likely to think of giving blood might be those that have received it – and we are excluded.

  5. We are allowed to give blood now though. Let’s all rejoice at that, what a marked step forward in the country to finally allow the gay community to willingly and openly give their blood and save lives. A true step forward in history.

    Ohh, hang on, what’s that in the small print? We can give blood if we haven’t had sex in 10 years? 10 years! TEN YEARS?! Evidently they would rather that the gay community give up their lives for 10 years to save someone else’s. Not to be selfish or anything, but I’d rather not live for an extra 10 years towards the end of my life than not have sex for 10 years.

    Think I’ll be hanging onto my blood for a while longer until the government can stop being so homobloodophobic

  6. substuff says:

    I have never understood why I, as a woman, can give blood without anyone asking me whether I’ve had oral or anal sex with a man (perhaps even with a bisexual one), while gay men are sent packing. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s surely the act that is (or isn’t) a health risk – not the gender of the potential donor.

    Am I missing something crucial here?

  7. Peter Hay says:

    Sadly, two men practising oral sex is a higher risk group, in terms of HIV and AIDS, but the tests, as mentioned above, should be enough to afford gay men who choose this lifestyle the choice of giving blood.

    This exclusion, however, does look set to be reversed, as reported on the BBC, amongst other news channels, today.

    But, as the Terrence Higgins Trust explained, it is vital that this decision be made on medical grounds and not based on the discrimination debate.

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