From March 23, the UK has been in a nation-wide lockdown meaning some people have been totally isolated from intimate contact with others, many isolating for longer due to showing symptoms of COVID-19.
The deferral policy of three months implemented on gay and bi men, according to the NHS , is put in place to ensure the safety of patients and infections that may be undetectable at the point of donation and screening.
The deferral policy originally started as a 12 month period for gay and bi men but was changed to 3 months in 2018, following an announcement from the then Public Health Minister, Rebecca Evans.
Campaign group Freedom To Donate, has recently called for an individualized approach to risk policy, writing an open letter to MPs and peers. Currently 40 signatures have been added to the letter.
“The fact it’s taken lockdown and a global pandemic in order for gay and bi men to be able to donate is absurd” said Ethan Spibey, one of the founders of Freedom To Donate.
“NHS Blood and Transplant themselves are calling for 68,000 new male donors this year”
“We say that those people exist. They are gay and bi men. That’s why we’re working alongside the government to advocate for an individualized risk based policy, a policy that would assess people on their individual risk, not their sexuality”.
Gay and bi men are not the only group to be affected by the 3 month defferal period, with the list including commercial sex workers, partners who are at higher risk and people who have had sex with sexually active people in areas where HIV is common, following an update from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) .
Gay and bi men in Wales have donated blood following the lockdown restrictions, many donating for the first time.
“It’s the first time as a 27-year-old, bisexual man, I could donate blood” Councillor for Grangetown, Ashley Lister, told WalesOnline.
“I did not know that restrictions affecting blood donation span far wider than the community”
“The restrictions are far from perfect and yes, unfair to me as an individual”
“I am hopeful that the review which is currently being conducted is finished as soon as possible, so the restrictions can be reassessed and we can hopefully move towards a new system, but only if it is safe to do so”.
Some gay and bi men, however, are refusing to donate based on the deferral policies in place.
“I refuse to donate on the basis of the current law restricting men who have sex with men from giving blood” said Carl Tubbs from Cardiff.
“The restrictions don’t make sense in today’s society, where I’d argue that straight people have the same risks as gay and bi men”.
2020 will see a collaborative report created by FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualized Risk), exploring whether or not gay and bi men could donate without needing a deferral. The work has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Welsh Government have told WalesOnline that “Whilst eligibility for donating blood and plasma are the same for all UK blood services, we want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to donate if they can safely do so”
“The Welsh Blood Service is currently taking part in a review as part of the FAIR study and is due to report later this year”.
An active petition to the Welsh Government has acquired over 1,300 signatures so far backing the idea of an individualized risk policy.