Councillors call for an end to discriminatory blood donor rules

Besi Besemar June 15, 2014

Green councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council are calling for an end to the bar against gay and bisexual men donating blood within 12 months of sexual activity.

Cllr Alex Phillips
Cllr Alex Phillips

In 2011 a lifetime ban on donating blood by gay and bisexual men was lifted in most of the UK (except Northern Ireland); however any man who has had sex with another man within the last year is not permitted to donate blood.

To coincide with World Blood Donor Day on June 14, Green councillors have announced they are tabling a motion at the next city council meeting on July 17 urging the Government to change the rules.

The time it takes for tests to show whether someone is infected with HIV and most other serious blood-borne infections is now three months and for Hepatitis C is six months so infection is detectable much earlier than 12 months.

Green Councillor Alexandra Phillips, proposer of the motion, said: “We welcome the 2011 change lifting the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood but it doesn’t go far enough to end discrimination and help the supply of safe blood.

“The current rules are still discriminatory and are not backed by logical analysis of risk. Good science would support a six month window before donating blood after a possible risk, for all donors, on the basis that tests for HIV and Hepatitis C can detect infection within that time. The health service desperately needs safe blood donations, but this discrimination bars perfectly healthy men from helping to save lives.

“It is possible to have a safe donor system based on the prevention of harm yet which does not discriminate. Anyone wanting to donate blood should be asked the same basic questions irrespective of their sexual orientation. It is unethical to prevent a whole group of healthy people from donating blood when a blood donation might save a life.

“Now the council has responsibility for public health, we hope this motion will help reassure gay and bisexual men in our city that the council is set against such a discriminatory health policy and that the government should act.”

Cllr Mike Jones
Cllr Mike Jones

Councillor Mike Jones, who is an NHS sexual health adviser and is seconding the motion, added: “It’s absolutely crucial that blood supplies are safe and there should be proper measures in place to deal with risky individuals – but these rules mean in practice the vast majority of healthy gay and bisexual men are prevented from donating blood.

“The result is we cut the supply of safe blood to the NHS while high-risk heterosexual donors remain free to donate. The blood of a healthy gay man who is in a monogamous relationship and who has only had oral sex will not be used whereas a heterosexual man who has had multiple opposite-sex partners and who refuses to take safe sex precautions will not usually be questioned about his behaviour or have his blood excluded.”

He added: “Given that only around 5% of healthy people actually donate blood, rather than discriminating against large sections of the population, it would be far better and fairer to treat donors on a case-by-case basis using precise questions so that those gay and bisexual men who are willing to give blood would answer questions that accurately identify their degree of risk, so we aren’t turning away people who could be saving lives.”

The Department of Health’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs partly justifies the ban on the higher incidence of Hepatitis B in gay and bisexual men than the rest of the population since this infection could remain undetectable for several months under current testing. However advocates of a non-discriminatory approach say this could be addressed by a targeted Hepatitis B vaccination programme among gay and bisexual men.

Green councillors say health authorities should implement a ‘Safe Blood’ education campaign targeted at the men who have sex with men to ensure that no one donates blood if they are at risk of HIV and other blood-borne infections arising from unsafe sexual activity. This should be backed by a health promotion campaign for Hepatitis B vaccination within the gay and bisexual community.