It was an ’emotional’ day for Richard Angell as he finally gave blood for the first time after 20 years of waiting.
‘Historic’ new rules have come into effect today on World Blood Donor Day which means those giving blood in England, Scotland and Wales will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with a man.
Instead, individuals will be asked about their recent sexual behaviours, regardless of their gender or sexuality.
This means people like Richard can finally donate after years – even decades – of waiting.
‘When I was 17 I went with some friends to go and give blood,’ Richard, who is now 37, told Metro.co.uk.
‘I view giving blood as the health equivalent of jury service – like a kind of civic duty. If everyone does it a couple of times it will ensure we have enough blood for everyone. That’s why I wanted to do it.’
But he said when the nurse was checking he was eligible, he was ’embarrassed’ to learn he was not allowed to donate because he was gay.
Richard, who now works for the Terrence Higgins Trust which campaigns around HIV and sexual health in the UK, said: ‘The donor centre was in my scout hut, so I knew it quite well.
‘So I went out behind the back, and snuck out the fire escape, because I could not have my friends see me leave. I just told them afterwards I felt really faint.
‘It was huge for me, and it remained really stigmatised – and makes you feel bad about being gay.’
Previously gay and bisexual men had to abstain from sex for three months before being able to give blood, but now people can also donate if they have had the same sexual partner for the last three months or if they have a new sexual partner with whom they have not had anal sex.
There must also be no known recent exposure to a sexually transmitted infection, or recent use of HIV prevention drugs such as PrEP or PEP.
Anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner or with multiple partners in the last three months will be not be able to give blood today, but may be eligible in the future.
Richard, who lives with his partner in Barkingside in east London, said he felt ’emotional’ to step through the doors of Westfield Stratford City Donor Centre before 9am this morning to finally donate for the first time.
He was pictured wearing a face mask with the phrase ‘La.’ written on it – a nod to TV programme It’s A Sin which focuses on a group of people living during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s – and surrounded by rainbow flags.
‘It was brilliant to donate alongside many others in the same boat as me who were donating for the very first time,’ Richard, a campaigns director, said.
‘From now on, I hope no more young gay people are made to feel lesser or scared by being refused on the basis of who they are attracted to and have sex with. That sort of thing really does chip away at your confidence.
‘I hadn’t really thought about the actual process of giving blood, but the donation centre in Stratford was brilliant with lots of people there to donate on day one of the changes coming in.
‘The Pride flags made it feel like a real celebration of the UK following the science not stigma when it comes to blood donation.’
The new rules not only fall in the Pride month of June, but also in Metro.co.uk’s dedicated Pride Week which celebrates the LGBT+ community.
Ella Poppitt, chief nurse for blood donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said the change will make blood donation policy fairer and more inclusive, while still maintaining the safety of the blood supply.
‘Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do,’ she said, ‘This change is about switching around how we assess the risk of exposure to a sexual infection, so it is more tailored to the individual.
‘We screen all donations for evidence of significant infections, which goes hand-in-hand with donor selection to maintain the safety of blood sent to hospitals.’
Robbie de Santos, from LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall, said: ‘We welcome today’s historic change, which will help ensure more gay and bi men can donate blood and represents an important step towards a donation selection policy entirely based on an individualised assessment of risk.
‘We want to see a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely and we will continue to work with Government to build on this progress and ensure that more people, including LGBT+ people, can donate blood safely in the future.’
But the Terrence Higgins Trust acknowledged that although today’s change is positive, there are still concerns regarding ‘discriminatory restrictions’ on blood donation in England regarding race and geography.
There is still a three-month deferral period for anyone who has a ‘partner who has, or you think may have been, sexually active in parts of the world where HIV/Aids is very common’, which references ‘most countries in Africa’.
There are fears this ‘unacceptable’ question may prevent many black people from giving blood, although donations from these communities are in high demand.
The charity’s chief executive, Ian Green, said: ‘It’s great news that far more gay and bisexual men can safely donate blood from today.
‘But the excitement of that announcement is significantly dampened by another discriminatory question being retained by Government in the blood donation process in England, which presents a significant barrier to black donors in particular giving blood.
‘This is despite it being removed in both Scotland and Wales, and the blood service actively encouraging black communities to donate plasma and blood due to shortages.’
He said the Trust has today written an open letter to health secretary Matt Hancock to encourage him to remove the ‘unacceptable’ question, which he says is
Ian further added the Fair (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group led by NHS Blood and Transplant – which recommended the removal of the gender-oriented questions – also suggested the geographical question be removed.
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