Ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood is lifted, but there’s still work to do

3 July 2019

I remember watching an episode of ‘Rich Kids of Beverley Hills’ a few years ago which was focused on a blood drive by one of the cast members. In the episode another cast member took offence as he couldn’t give blood because he was gay. I was confused at the time as I didn’t understand why gay men couldn’t give blood.  So many questions ran through my head. Isn’t this discrimination? Why should they be denied the right to help others?
 

The ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood was introduced in 1985, in response to the HIV and AIDs crisis impacting on the gay community. At the same time, techniques for testing for HIV were not as advanced as they are now, so it was felt it was simply too risky for gay and bisexual men to give blood. Despite there being significant advancements in HIV testing, unfortunately there are still limitations with gay and bisexual men giving blood.

Historically, not being able to give blood was a lifetime ban, but it was from November 2011 when gay and bisexual men were no longer prohibited from giving blood, though there was a one-year deferral period, meaning that they had to refrain from sexual intercourse for 12 months prior to giving blood. In November 2017 there was further progress and the deferral period was reduced to 3 months.

Whilst this change in policy is progress, in my opinion, it’s not enough and still unfair and discriminatory. Because of these limitations on giving blood, there are still negative assumptions around the gay and bisexual community as it is assumed that they more likely to have HIV compared to heterosexual people. The blood donation system needs to be based on individual risk assessments rather than the generalisation and exclusion of entire communities.

We are pleased to see that there are organisations like Stonewall and the Equality Network are working closely with Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) to eliminate all unwarranted discrimination from the UK’s blood donation rules. 

On Stonewall’s website they explain…

Stonewall wants to see a system that allows the most possible people to donate safely.

We know that statistically, men who have sex with men face higher rates of blood-borne infections – an inequality that should be tackled in and of itself – and we have always been clear that the safety of the blood supply is paramount.

However it’s untrue to say that every gay and bi man is a high-risk donor.

Stonewall continues to call for a system based on individualised risk assessment of blood donors, rather than excluding an entire group.

Stonewall is also calling for NHS England to make PrEP, a drug which specifically prevents HIV transmission, routinely available.

Just a year before the Government reduced the deferral period from 12 months to three months, the Court of Appeal ruled that there was no legal barrier to the NHS commissioning PrEP. The legal challenge, brought by the National AIDS Trust, came about because the NHS had suddenly stopped its work on PrEP. This was despite research showing that the drug dramatically reduces the risk of HIV transmission. 

While the public may know about the blood ban and the outdated justification for it, they will be less aware of PrEP and how initiatives like this are already reducing HIV transmission. This fact is troubling.

Stonewall is committed to working with the Government, NHS Blood and Transplant Service and other charities to create a fair, individualised system that is based in science, and not in historic fears.

Kingsley Napley supports the work of Stonewall and are proud members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme. 

 

About the author

Jenelle Shand is an Officer in Kingsley Napley’s Human Resources team.  She is a member the firm’s LGBTQ & Allies network and member of the Diversity and Inclusion committee.

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