Gay blood ban
Publish Date: 20/02/2009
This week the National Blood Services' continued refusal to take blood donations from gay men has dominated the headlines. This is an issue that has been raging for years, despite a number of gay rights organisations exposing the flaws in NBS' policy.
NBS are in the spotlight again after the gay rights charity Stonewall released a two year study which calls for an end to the blood ban. The study is based on extensive data reports, conversations with gay men, the national blood service and other stakeholders, which suggest the assessment of risk is biased against gay men.
As a result of the two year policy review, Stonewall is putting pressure on the National Blood Service to lift the discriminatory blanket lifetime ban on gay men donating blood, stressing that the risk of infection should be assessed equally.
With blood donations, health and safety is of paramount importance, and in support of this Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: 'It's for this very reason that Stonewall now urges the National Blood Service to change its current restrictions to reflect risk behaviours. As it stands, a heterosexual person who has consistently put themselves at risk of exposure to HIV is not given the same lifetime ban as that of a gay man, who has had protected sex just once.'
'People wanting to donate blood should be asked the same questions - irrespective of their sexual orientation - that accurately and fairly assess their level of risk of infection. The current system fails to do this. Instead, it stigmatises gay men by perpetuating the offensive myth that they cannot be trusted in matters of sexual health.'
Stonewall are now urging ministers to encourage senior health care officials to reconsider the ban; sighting the donation policies in Australia, Spain, Italy and New Zealand - none of whom have a blanket ban on gay men.
Recently, there have been positive steps forward with regards to gay men being encouraged to donate. The leukaemia charity, The Anthony Nolan Trust and the NHS backed organ donor scheme Transplant UK, both have donation polices that don't discriminate against gay men.
The Terence Higgins Trust - the largest HIV and AIDS charity in the UK - recommend that the NBS' policy be regularly reviewed to ensure it is based on the best available scientific evidence and most up-to-date technology. THT will wait to see the results of these reviews before calling for any changes to the regulations.
NBS justify their current exclusion policy by pointing to the high levels of HIV in the 1980s; the policy is up for review in July.
In a recent recruitment drive for donors, the NBS said that 7000 donations are needed every day to keep blood stocks healthy, and that of 8000 people registered for a transplant, 1000 will die while waiting. So why turn away much needed blood from gay men who want to donate?
DOES THIS MAKE YOUR BLOOD BOIL? We want to know what you think, we realise that safety is all important but is the NBS' current policy safe?