UK relying on ‘Polish blood’ amid donor shortage, despite ban on gays

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A Tory MP has said a campaign urging Polish nationals to donate blood shows that the system is lacking donors, and that gay and bisexual men should be allowed to donate blood to prevent a shortage.

The West End Donor Centre in London amid “a nationwide bid to improve British-Polish relations”, seen dozens of Polish people turn up to donate blood.

The Independent yesterday reported that the campaign, a reaction against a proposed migrant workers strike, was a success, and that, at least in London, the number of Polish blood donors had dramatically risen.

But Tory MP Michael Fabricant, who is one of several cross-party MPs pushing for reform of the way people are assessed for blood donation, said the fact that foreign nationals are being targeted by this campaign highlights why, now more than ever, the UK needs to accept blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

Mr Fabricant earlier this year renewed his call for the Government to lift a ban on gay and bi men giving blood if they have had sex with a man in the previous twelve months.

The MP for Lichfield, made the call as it was announced that the number of people donating blood had fallen 40% in a decade. 

Today, of the campaign to have more Polish people donate blood, he told PinkNews: “This campaign starkly highlights the shortage of blood donors yet the transfusion service still persists in discriminating against ‘gay blood’.

“The NHS still refuses to undertake research into the infection rate of monogamous gay and bisexual men yet turn a blind eye to donors whom they know to be gay but have the rarer blood groups. This is so reminiscent of the hypocrisy that existed for so long in the British Armed Forces.

“This has got to end. Not just for the sake of the gay community, but for those who urgently need blood transfusions.”

Despite the shortages, gay and bisexual men are still banned from donating blood if they have had sex in the previous twelve months.

In a number of European countries, MSM still face lifetime bans on blood donations under regulations introduced at the height of the AIDS crisis. In the UK, MSM currently face a 12-month deferral period.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in April that it may be justified to indefinitely ban men from giving blood, while hearing the case of a French man who was refused the right to do so.

Though a lifetime ban has been lifted in England, Scotland and Wales, it is not yet abolished across the UK as the Northern Irish DUP refuses to lift the lifetime ban.

Mr Fabricant introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year calling for the gay blood ban to be removed.

On introducing the bill, Mr Fabricant said: “This still does not make sense.  It cannot be logical that a gay man practising safe sex with a single partner is banned from giving blood while a straight man having unsafe sex with multiple partners can. There is no logic to this and it is unnecessarily discriminatory.”

The Northern Irish Department of Health recently admitted it does not have any evidence to back up maintaining a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood – but successive Democratic Unionist Party Health Ministers have refused to budge on the issue.

The British Government in January said it was considering whether to conduct a study into whether gay or bisexual men in monogamous, same-sex relationships should still have to wait 12 months after having sex to donate blood.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect that the campaign for Polish blood was not started by the NHS or the West End Donor Centre.