| BY JOE MORGAN
As NHS struggles to find new donors, former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas tells Gay Star News why she wants gay and bisexual men to be allowed to give blood
The UK is in need of new blood donors, but they are ignoring one of the largest groups of prospective donors – gay and bisexual men.
With 74% of Gay Star News readers in our poll willing to donate blood if they were allowed to, politicians have renewed calls to lift the ‘outdated’ ban.
In England, Wales and Scotland, gay and bisexual men must be celibate for a year before they are allowed to donate. In Northern Ireland, largely due to the anti-gay marriage DUP, the ban remains indefinitely.
With the number of people donating falling 40% in a decade, it was announced this week, the NHS has started a new campaign to bring in new donors.
But according to some of the UK’s leading campaigners in equality, the solution is obvious.
Caroline Lucas, the former leader of the Green Party, told Gay Star News in a statement that the UK needs an ‘evidence based approach’ on how to deal with the number of donors.
‘That’s why I’ve long called for a review of the evidence on allowing people to donate safe blood in compliance with the Equality Act 2010,’ she said.
‘Crucially, this would also help ensure that men who have sex with men, for example, are not discriminated against when they want to donate blood.’
Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has also recently renewed his call, tabling a question to the Department of Health asking why men who are in clearly stable relationships – civil partnerships or same-sex marriages – are also banned from giving blood.
Both Fabricant and Lucas have previously described the one-year and full time ban as ‘outdated, illogical and unequal’.
Fabricant introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year calling for gay and bisexual men to be allowed to donate.
On introducing the bill, he said: ‘There is no logic to this and it is unnecessarily discriminatory.’
And Peter Black, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Equalities Minister, has also put pressure on the UK government.
‘This ban not only turns away thousands of willing and healthy potential donors, but it also serves to reinforce negative stereotypes about gay and bisexual men,’ he said. ‘The sooner this unfair and discriminatory ban is lifted, the sooner our blood services can benefit from a greater supply of donated blood and more lives can be saved.’
It led to the UK government announcing in January they would consider consulting on whether a 12-month deferral is necessary when it comes to the blood donation for gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships.
Jon Latham, assistant director of donor services at NHS Blood and Transplant, told GSN: ‘Some people ask us why these donation criteria exist and express to us their frustration if this means that they are not eligible to give blood. None of the criteria in place for blood donation are intended to be discriminatory.
‘It is specific sexual behaviors rather than sexuality that increase the risk of virus transmission and drive the criteria. Ensuring donor and patient safety is at the heart of what we do.
‘The processes we follow at our blood donation sessions are in line with blood donor selection criteria set by the Department of Health on the advice of independent experts.’
Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV and sexual health charity, has agreed the stance can only realisitically be changed when the risks of HIV for gay and bisexual men are reduced to the same level as that of most straight people.
To look at the current blood bans in force around the world, see our list here.
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