NHS campaign for male blood sparks controversy

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The NHS has revealed that it is desperate for more donations of male blood, but the campaign has led some men to talk about the difficulties they have experienced trying to donate.

Only 41% of new blood donors in England last year were men.

Certain factors mean that only male blood is used in some specialized transfusions, such as in newborns.

Potential male donors are now urging the NHS to facilitate donation.

There is hope of a 26% increase in men's donations for the first time in an attempt to compensate for the current gender imbalance and put an end to the possibility of a crisis in the future.

However, some gay and bisexual men have expressed frustration at not being able to lend their support to the cause.

& # 39; Let down & # 39;

Before 2011, men who have sex with men (MSM) could not donate blood.

This changed, in 2017, when the rules were relaxed in England, Scotland and Wales to allow them to donate blood after refraining from sexual activity for three months.

Jamie Lambert, 29, of London, says that many gay and bisexual men are disappointed by the law.

"As a gay man, I've felt trapped between wanting to donate blood but having to lie about my sexual history to do it," he says.

"It is so frustrating to think that I cannot give blood when there is no good reason why I should not, in addition to an old trope, which is somehow more dangerous because of my sexuality."

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Ethan Spibey, founder of the FreedomToDonate campaign group, told BBC News that it was time for the government to lift the rules surrounding MSM donations, especially in light of the advances made in the HIV detection processes used in the blood donated

"Thousands of possible safe donors are being excluded under the current blood donation policy," he said.

"We have been campaigning to evaluate people based on their risk, not their sexuality."

The current deferral period applies to donors that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) consider to have a higher risk of carrying a blood-borne virus.

However, a DHSC spokeswoman told BBC News that options are currently being reviewed that could allow more people to donate.

"We want as many people as possible to donate blood while minimizing the risk of infection transmission and we are working closely with NHSBT [NHS Blood and Transplant] to explore options for a more individualized approach to donor deferral, "he said.

Of the 4,453 people diagnosed with HIV in the United Kingdom in 2018, 51% identified themselves as gay or bisexual men, according to the Terrance Higgins Trust.

New diagnoses among this group have steadily declined since 2005, especially in London, where rates have dropped 39% since 2015.

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Why is male blood so important?

  • The high level of iron present in male blood makes it especially useful for patients who rely on regular transfusions to save lives.
  • Unlike men, women produce antibodies during pregnancy, which makes their blood unfeasible for numerous specialized transfusions and blood-based products, such as whole blood transfusions in newborns

& # 39; Closures & # 39;

Rowan Swainson, 66, of Wellington, has donated blood more than 40 times.

But he told BBC News that recent closures in Shropshire had led to an increase in the cost of trips to blood centers, which deterred many donors.

"By reducing service costs, they just passed the costs to their most valuable asset, which are their voluntary donors," he said.

"I know many donors who have stopped donating because of this.

"There are other blood products that I could donate, but that would involve a train journey and the duration of a full day, something that many of us simply cannot afford to do."

An NHSBT spokesman said: "We have closed some sessions in recent years because the long-term trend is for hospitals to use a little less blood each year."

"We appreciate that this has meant that some people, especially in rural areas, cannot easily travel to a session.

"This campaign appeal is about soliciting new male donors, mainly at our 23 permanent blood donor centers in towns and cities."

Regular donor Rick Jeanes has been donating blood for decades, but in recent years, he said, he had experienced longer wait times.

"I wish I could get a regular appointment," he told BBC News.

"How can the NHS get enough blood when teams have been devastated throughout the region?"

"It is necessary that there be more nurses, because people will not attend again if they are rejected the first time they attend."

The NHSBT spokesman said: "If all the sessions near you are full, it is a good sign that we are getting all the donors we need in that area at that time."

"Your blood will still save lives if you wish in a few weeks or months."

You can find a complete list of who is eligible to donate blood here.