Lib Dem campaigner Chris Ward calls for a second blood donation review

How would you feel about being prevented from giving blood based on your skin colour? What about your sexual orientation?

That is how campaigners are comparing the current blood donation regulations that mean gay and bisexual men must wait 12 months after having sex with a male partner before they are able to give blood.

Donors are asked about their sexual behavior as part of the Donor Health Check form completed prior to giving blood.

Chris Ward, of the LGBT wing of the Lib Dems, said: “Black men are a high risk group and they are rightly allowed to give blood because people recognise that you cannot say to somebody ‘you cannot give blood because you are black’. They are allowed to give blood and they are allowed to give blood responsibly, which they do.

“I don’t think that any argument that tries to correlate societal groups to the risk of behaviour is relevant at all.”

Up until last year there was a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who had ever had sex with another man.

The Lib Dem campaign ‘Science not Stigma: Ending the Blood Ban‘ successfully

challenged these regulations – lifting the lifetime ban – but the new 12 month deferral period was imposed. The campaign is now calling on government to review the system again and focus on the risks of the individual.

Chris said: “We know exactly how HIV is transmitted: it is transmitted through unprotected sex. I would prefer to have a behavioural based assessment that says rather than ‘are you a man who has had sex with a man in the last 12 months?’ but ‘are you anybody who has had unprotected sex with a casual partner in the last 12 months?'”

“That will not only be a catch all for anybody who is having risky sex, but at the same time it will put emphasis on the importance of safe sex – which is something that all aspects of the NHS should be promoting people doing.”

A report from the Health Protection Agency, to mark 30 years since the discovery of AIDS, identifies the groups most at risk of contracting HIV as men who have sex with men (MSM), black Africans and people who inject drugs. It was estimated that by the end of 2010 there were 91,500 people living with HIV in the UK, with 24% of those unaware they have the disease.

Since 1985 NHS Blood and Transplant have screened all blood donors for HIV. In 2010 there were 18 donors who tested positive at screening and eight of these reported that ‘the most likely risk for acquiring HIV was sex between men’.

There has been no transfer of HIV through blood transfusions in the UK since 2002.

Chris said: “We need to have a review in the next couple of years to see what impact these new regulations have had on the safety of the blood bank; has the number of HIV positive donations gone up, have we had any issues since then?

“Blood stocks are incredibly low, we need more people to donate and it makes absolute sense to change the criteria so that people who are low risk can donate and we exclude rightly people who are high risk. We need to accept that high risk does not mean who you sleep with, its how you do it.”

Chris is keen to stress that the ‘Science not Stigma’ campaign focuses on the scientific research behind the regulations.

He said: “A lot people have characterised this debate as the blood ban being homophobic and I absolutely refuse to use language like ‘homophobia’ and ‘bigotry’.

“I have a lot of respect for the NHS and the people who work in it and I would like to think that this review and deferral is the product of good intentions. We just don’t agree with how they have done it.

“We can beat our opponents on this using scientific evidence and the facts, we don’t need to cry homophobia.

“The most important thing is making sure the transfusions are safe and that they are clean. That has to be the number one priority. It is not about us – it has never been about the gay and bisexual men – it is always about the patient.”

Listen to the interview with Chris Ward below and please give your opinion by voting in the poll below or leaving a comment.



Ban on gay men donating blood is lifted, but what’s really changed?

Today new regulations came into force that end the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men who have ever had sex with another man.

Instead gay men must abstain from sex for 12 months before being able to give their blood, which I’m not quite sure makes it any easier to donate.

A year’s abstinence is quite a lot to ask. Is this really an end to the ban or simply a rebranding?

The previous rules put in place in the 1980s were a reaction to the AIDS/HIV panic when gay men were the group most at risk. But 30 years on it has only just been decided necessary to end this blanket ban.

Although gay men are the group most at risk of AIDS, other groups are obviously not immune and this needs to be recognised in the system. Since 2003 more newly diagnosed people have been infected through heterosexual sex than gay sex.

A statement issued by NHS Blood and Transplant service said: “The change brings the criterion for men who have had sex with men in line with those for the majority of other groups that are deferred from blood donation for 12 months due to the risks of infection associated with sexual behaviors.

“We appreciate that it can be disappointing for anyone who wishes to donate blood but is not able to meet the donor selection criteria. The criteria are based on complex assessments of risk and must by their nature be based on evidence and statistics that are recorded at a population level.”

A look on the NHS Blood and Transplant service website shows me that the other reasons for waiting a year before donating include having sex with a prostitute, injecting yourself with drugs, being a woman who sleeps with a man who has had sex with a man or having sex with someone who has been sexually active in a country where AIDS/HIV is prevalent.

This is all regardless of whether a condom is used or the sex is oral, anal or vaginal.

Under these conditions gay men in long term, monogamous relationships whose blood is screened clear are rejected from being blood donors. People who take necessary precautions and are personally at low risk of contracting a sexually transmitted virus are being stopped from donating.

I understand that there are constraints in place – funding being one – but can’t a system be implemented which calculates the risk of the individual and gives the blood itself more rigorous testing? After all, the current system only relies on the honesty of the individual when answering a pre-donation questionnaire.

There hasn’t been a case of HIV transferred through blood donation in this country since 2002 and obviously I wouldn’t want anything to compromise this. But are these changes to the system really a change?