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.