“Blood donation exists for patients, not for blood donors”, the NHS has warned after it emerged some men who have sex with men are knowingly flouting safety rules.
Su Brailsford, a consultant in health protection at NHS Blood and Transplant, spoke out following a BBC investigation.
Blood donation rules bar men who have had sex with men in the three months prior to giving blood. People who are HIV positive, have ever injected drugs or ever had syphilis are barred for life.
In an investigation for the Victoria Derbyshire programme, a number of men came forward to say they had donated blood despite being recently sexually active with other men.
One claimed the rule was “rooted in deep homophobia”, while another said he felt discriminated against.
Yusef Azad, of the National AIDS Trust, said the men were being “very unwise”, while Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who is Chair of the parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, also criticised their actions.
Explaining the different rules, Azad said: “There is a hundred times more HIV in the gay community, compared with the British-born heterosexual community”.
Su Brailsford agreed and said the NHS’s priority was the safety of people who received blood.
“At a population level, men who have sex with men have a higher risk”, adding: “Using protection like condoms or Prep can reduce this risk but may not eliminate it.”
“All donors have to complete the donor health check when they come to donate – so it’s not just men who have sex with men who we ask about what sort of sex they’ve been having.”
Most people can give blood, with men able to donate every twelve weeks and women every 16 weeks.
In 2011, the rules on donations were changed from a total bar for men who have sex with men to a twelve-month waiting period.
The law was further liberalised in 2017 when the current three-month restriction was introduced.
At the time, NHS Blood and Transplant said answering the health and lifestyle questions correctly “is crucial, in order to keep blood safe”.