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Gay and bisexual men set up an ‘illegal’ blood bank
Via Freedom To Donate and UNILAD

Gay and bisexual men in London have set up an ‘illegal’ blood bank

Opening at a secret location, the centre is in protest at the unfair donation restrictions for men who have sex with men

In January, the NHS called for more men to give blood after statistics showed that twice the amount of women than men became donors in 2018. Despite this, current policy makes it illegal for men who have sex with men to donate if they’ve had sex in the last three months. Now, in protest against this restriction, gay and bisexual men in London have set up a secret blood bank.

Called ‘The Illegal Blood Bank’, the centre is part of the ‘Blood Without Bias’ campaign set up by organisation Freedom To Donate in partnership with UNILAD. At the donation bank, medical professionals will take and test each person’s blood in order to show how much is going to waste.

“Our position is simple,” Ethan Spibey, the organisation’s founder, said in a press release, “anyone who can safely donate blood should be able to. We’re aiming to raise awareness of the unfairness in blood donation on a huge scale, and demonstrate the incredible potential of those thousands of gay and bi men who could potentially donate through an alternative model.”

In a video narrated by rugby player Keegan Hirst – who, in 2015, became the second British professional player to come out as gay – viewers are told: “Our blood bank will demonstrate a new, fairer system. A system that assesses individuals based on their sexual behaviour, not their sexual orientation.”

Hirst explains that the campaign aims to “show governments all over the world that they are ignoring millions of pints of safe, life-saving blood”. 

Blood donation restrictions were initially put in place due of fears of HIV and Aids, though lifetime bans on gay and bisexual men giving blood were lifted in most of the UK in 2011, and in Northern Ireland in 2016. NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) says there’s still a three month restriction on men who have sex with men “to reduce the risk of any very recently acquired infections not being detected on screening and further tests”.

Following years of campaigning, in 2017 Freedom To Donate were successful in changing blood donation policy, getting the deferral period for gay and bisexual men reduced from 12 months to three. But the organisation still believes there’s a way to go, saying the three month period for men doesn’t take into account factors that affect risk levels for all donors, including regular STI testing.

In an email statement to Dazed, Dr Su Brailsford, a consultant at the NHSBT, said: “We’re already working collaboratively with LGBTQ+ groups on blood donation through the FAIR steering group. This group is using an evidence-based approach to explore if a more individualised blood donation risk assessment can be safely and practically introduced, while ensuring the safe supply of blood to patients. We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to donate while continuing to ensure the safety of patients.”

The NHSBT also emphasised that the government is responsible for setting the blood donation guidelines, with the three month deferral based on advice from a Department of Health and Social Care committee.

The Illegal Blood Bank will be set up at a secret London location on November 23. Sign up here.