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Donation not discrimination 2008/09

Thursday 17 July 2008 Campaigns Archive

The National Blood Service (NBS) provides a vital supply of blood to save lives. Every 30 seconds, someone in the UK receives blood and each week, 2,000 blood donations are needed.  But practicing gay and bisexual men are not allowed to donate. NUS is campaigning to change this.

Since the early 1980s, the NBS has had a blanket ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men who have had oral or anal sex – even with a condom. This is unscientific and unjust, as it is based on the presumption that all men who have sex with men are at ‘high risk’ for HIV, regardless of their individual sexual behaviour.

After all the progress we’ve made towards LGBT equality over the last few years, it’s hard to accept such discrimination and homophobia from an organisation like the National Blood Service. NUS LBGT is continuing its nationwide campaign to change this policy.

To date, 25 students' unions have held events on their campus or at their local blood centre to highlight the homophobic policies of the National Blood Service. We’ve encouraged people to give blood in place of gay and bisexual men. We hope you’ll play an active part in removing this deeply stigmatising policy and ensuring a policy that protects the blood supply in a fair and balanced way.

NBS and NHSBT

The National Blood Service, Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service and the Welsh Blood Service are part of NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT). Every year NHSBT collects, tests, processes, stores and issues 2.1 million blood donations. Recently the service went through a major shortage and had to launch an emergency appeal – the first in four years – to keep the blood supply flowing.

NBS policy

From: 'Exclusion of Men who have Sex with Men from Blood DonationPosition Statement' 10 April 2008

“In order to assure the continued safety of the blood supply, we currently ask those in groups shown to have a particularly high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses not to give blood. These include men who have ever had sex with men. The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour (such as anal and oral sex between men), rather than the sexuality of the person wishing to donate. There is, therefore, no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man nor of women who have sex with women.”

To read the statement in full, visit blood.co.uk.

NUS LGBT policy

NUS LGBT strongly believes that the blanket, and lifetime, ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men should be removed. We believe that discriminating against a group of society based on a stereotype is wrong. Furthermore, the policy of the National Blood Service reinforces the idea that HIV/AIDS is a ‘gay disease.’

The current criteria for blood donations centres around perceived risk of an entire group. NUS LGBT is pushing for a system to be implemented based on actual risk. It is wrong to assume that everyone is automatically high-risk and therefore wrong to automatically ban every gay and bisexual man from giving blood.

A man who has had sex with a man once in his life, before the emergence of AIDS, is treated in the same way as someone who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners in the last month. An individual’s sexual history is completely ignored. In addition, people who have engaged in unprotected heterosexual sex in high risk areas are free to donate after twelve months.

Other countries, including EU countries subject to the same European legislation as the UK, have already lifted the ban on donations from gay and bisexual men citing epidemiological evidence and discrimination as the primary reasons for this change in policy.

We believe that if the NBS is prepared to change the rules for one group of people to get more donors, as was done in November 2005, when the age limit was increased from 60 to 65, then the rules should be looked at again for gay and bisexual men. We also believe the NBS should reassess their policy to allow healthy gay and bisexual men at low risk to be allowed to donate blood. That includes those in a monogamous relationship and those who have not had sex in a defined period of time.

How you can get involved

  • Organise an event at your university or college to highlight awareness of the NBS’s discriminatory policy and to encourage people to sign a petition. We’re looking for 10,000 signatures to hand in to the Department of Health and photos to put on the website. Send them to: LGBT Unit, NUS HQ, Centro 3, 19 Mandela Street, NW1 0DU or upload your photos here  .
  • Hold an information picket outside a blood donation centre, where you can hand out leaflets or talk to donors in a friendly, approachable way about the issues (the purpose of the picket is encourage more donations, not to intimidate current donors). Let everyone at your institution know about the event and ask them to give blood if they are able to.
  • Generate press coverage by inviting local journalists to attend your event, or write a press release and send it (along with photos) to your local newspaper. Don’t forget to keep the national NUS press office  informed about what you’re doing. We can help support your campaign.
  • A colourful and eye-catching banner can help attract attention to your campaign. Other creative ideas include balloons, t-shirts, stickers, and face paints. 
  • Join the Donation Not Discrimination group  on Facebook.

Remember it’s essential that any campaign you run does not discourage donors or interfere with the NBS’s ability to collect blood. To keep the NBS informed of your plans, contact Rachel Roberts (0161 251 470 or Rachel.Roberts@nhsbt.nhs.uk).