Opinion: Gay blood donation ban to be lifted – well, barely

The news broke over the weekend that an announcement is imminent on the policy surrounding the lifetime ban on donating blood for any man who has ever had sex with another man.

The writing on the wall appears to be that gay men who have not had sex for a decade might in future be allowed to give blood.

This decision was the likely outcome of the scientific review into blood donation, when I researched the issue for an op-ed slot on Pod Delusion live. It was one of the things I mocked in front of a live pub audience.

The Advisory Committee for the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs (SaBTO) have been looking at the issue for over two years. If you check their website on the NHS pages you can read the minutes of the committee and a number of academic papers they are considering as part of making up their minds.

One of the “compromises” they appear to be coming to is suggesting that gay men who haven’t had gay sex for five years become eligible to donate blood.

This would have the bizarre outcome of putting the NHS in the same situation as the Anglican Church. “We’re absolutely fine with teh gays – just so long as we can be sure that you’re not actually f***ing.”

Will Howells joked at the time that it meant you could redefine “a dry spell” as “taking one for the team” – which made me chuckle then.

But joking aside, this is a disappointing decision.

Whilst it is welcome that a very small number of people might now be able to donate blood who previously were not able, I think this falls short of the sort of action we have seen in other countries, and is a disappointing outcome.

It still means that the vast majority of gay men, the vast majority of whom do not have HIV, will still be unable to donate blood. 19/20 gay men polled would be happy to do so if they were able, and would be happy to contribute to the Blood Service’s perpetual problem of finding enough eligible donors to keep the nation’s crash victims, surgery candidates and post-partum mothers alive.

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