The Outdated Regulations of Giving Blood

I gave blood for the first time last week and it was a pretty ok experience. It took an hour or so out of my evening but I got to sit, child free, and read my book, catch up on social media or just enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. At the end I got crisps, biscuits and a glass of juice and the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that I had probably helped a life to be saved.

But, the whole process also got me thinking. When blood is in such high demand why are we so strict on who donates?

There are a lot of rules that I completely understand – you have to be fit and healthy, not pregnant, over 7st 12lb and aged between 17 and 66 – or 70 if you have given blood before. Then there are restrictions on how often you can give blood – every 12 weeks for men and every 16 weeks for women. This is so your body has enough time to replace the blood that you donated.

But, after that, common sense seems to have been lost somewhere in the mix and the rules around giving blood seem to be outdated at best. For example, you cannot give blood if you have ever received money or drugs for sex.

Now, I’m not condoning exchanging sex for money or drugs but not allowing people who have done that in the past – however long ago and however many times – is basically saying that they all have diseases. Which, even the most uneducated person knows isn’t true. They could have practiced safe sex every single time and just found themselves at a low point in their life. Does that rule them out of ever helping to save a life themselves?

You also can’t give blood if you have ever injected, or been injected with, drugs – even if it was a long time ago and even if it only happened once. This includes body-building drugs and injectable tanning agents. Which again suggests that anyone who has ever come into contact with a needle must either have a disease or some other blood contamination. Some injected drugs are ok if a doctor has prescribed them but the rule of thumb is if you have injected anything then you can’t, ever, give blood.

You can’t give blood if you have received donated eggs or embryos during IVF treatment but you are allowed to donate if you’ve received donated sperm. You also can’t donate if you have ever had a blood transfusion.

It also rules out men who, in the last 12 months have had oral or anal sex with another man, even if they have used a condom or other protection. I think most people have sex at least once a year and so this rules out pretty much all gay men from ever giving blood, again suggesting that all gay men have a disease.

You are also ruled out if your partner has ever injected drugs, or ever received money for sex. So, you could be in a relationship with someone who, once, as a young adult, had sex with someone in exchange for drugs. Because of that you will never be able to give blood – under the current regulations. I could keep going – there are also strict regulations about which countries you’re allowed to have travelled to and which countries you’re not allowed to have had sex in – ones with a high HIV rate, regardless of who you had sex with in that country.

As all blood donated goes through rigorous testing this seems absolutely ridiculous to me. Yes, all of the groups above are more susceptible to STDs, HIV and other diseases but it doesn’t mean they categorically have them. The chances are that most of them, who want to donate, don’t have anything nasty in their blood. So surely it is better to let more people donate and then just strike off the ones who turn out to have something unsatisfactory in their system?

When you give blood everything is sanitary, clean and taken straight from protective packets. The nurses wear gloves and there are biohazard bags and buckets for all the waste. There is so much effort that goes into making sure that at no point does any cross contamination happen and every blood donation gets sent to the blood centre where the blood is separated into it’s different components – red blood cells, plasma, or platelets and they are then checked for viruses to help ensure that each donation is safe to transfuse to patients.

So with this testing in place why can’t a gay man go and donate? If he doesn’t think he has a disease then surely he should be allowed the opportunity to donate, to help someone and the worst case scenario would be that they find out at the testing stage that he does in fact have something wrong with him and it can then get flagged, he can get treatment and he’ll then know not to donate again in the future.

But ruling out people purely on their sexual orientation or decisions they have made in the past as well as people who have had IVF or blood transfusions themselves means that the pool of people able to give blood is getting less and less – more and more people have IVF or need blood transfusions and as all blood is tested anyway I just can’t understand why such a large cross section of the community can’t be given the chance to donate.

Plus, the rules vary massively from country to country. In Australia you can donate blood 12 months after receiving a blood transfusion. In the United States there is no upper age limit and the question of whether you have had fertility treatment doesn’t even get mentioned. But also, in both countries, anyone who has spent six months or more in the UK between 1980 and 1996 wouldn’t be allowed to donate, as obviously anyone in the UK over the age of 21 has CJD, more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, don’t they? Really, why do the regulations vary so much?

Some people have more risk of having a disease. Some people have more risk of being in a road traffic accident if they spend all day in a car and some have more risk of getting an illness if it’s hereditary and runs in their family. But it doesn’t mean these things will happen and we cannot stop living our lives because of possible outcomes without knowing the facts.

If someone has HIV, Hepatitis or any other blood borne disease they obviously shouldn’t give blood but until you know that they have a disease, or any other factual reason not to give blood, I think everyone should be treated equally. It may just help to save a life.

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9 Comments

  1. Nichola
    January 30, 2017 / 9:00 am

    Hi, I think it’s a great thing that you have done but without knowing the medical rationale from a qualified medical expert, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to condemn the NHS. And I’m someone that pays for private health care, so I’m not the best advocate of the NHS.

    Is it possible that these rules are in place, not only to limit disease & illness but just the very basic prevention of time wasting. To prevent wasting more public resources on processing blood that possibly cant be used. What’s the stats on the blood that’s given by the groups being excluded & its usage?

    And don’t forget, despite a high level of testing, there have been many cases where illness has been spread via blood. And people have been called back years after the event.

    I hope you manage to continue to give blood. If you like that fuzzy feeling, why don’t you contact Delete Blood Cancer & do a spit test to see if you could be a bone marrow donor. Check out #match4lara

    Thanks for the blogs!

    Nicky

    • January 30, 2017 / 9:23 am

      I’m already on the bone marrow donor register too – I have been since I first gave blood.

      I don’t think I mentioned the NHS in this – it’s the National Blood Service that deals with blood donation and I never slate the NHS – I think it’s a great service and one I am thankful for when I look at the realities of health care in other countries.

      And you rest my case. ‘What’s the stats on the blood that’s given by the groups being excluded’ – stats don’t show the realities. Blood from those ‘groups’ may be statistically higher when it comes to samples not being usable, but there are so many people from those groups with blood that could be used who we aren’t even giving the chance to donate. Yet in other countries they would be able to donate it makes no sense to me.

  2. January 30, 2017 / 8:20 pm

    I understand the need for caution but they do seem rather OTT, the perceived assumption that those men engaging in oral or anal sex are somehow comprised is so outdated and just totally unnecessary. It does make you wonder how many lives could be saved with proper screening of all people who want to give blood, not just those who make the cut.

  3. January 30, 2017 / 10:45 pm

    As someone that gets blood regularly every three months and needs it to stay alive and am forever grateful for the people who donate. My Grandad was an extremely rare blood type and he often was called to give blood more regularly than allowed, especially as there was a hospital at the end of our street when I was growing up. I often remember going with him and sitting whilst he had extra taken as there was an emergency.

  4. January 30, 2017 / 11:44 pm

    This is really interesting and I don’t really know where I stand on it because I don’t know enough about it. The regulations are clearly there for a reason but I agree with you that they do sound excessively draconian and perhaps they need to be looked at again with a more open mind and with a view that is more in line with current thinking.
    Nat.x

  5. January 31, 2017 / 11:37 am

    I am no longer allowed to give blood since my recent diagnosis of MS. One more thing to add to the list of making me feel useless. I understand it’s to protect me, not because MS is contagious. It does figure actually because I did always feel dreadful the next day which nobody believed. However, I was ok with it. My choice. My little sacrifice to help others.
    Regarding HIV etc, my mum was amongst a badge of donations in Germany where one sample was showing up an alarming result. About 40 people’s blood was in that batch. They ALL had to undergo HIV testing. It upset my mum hugely as she works in a healthcare profession and was genuinely worried. She will never donate again

  6. January 31, 2017 / 4:28 pm

    I need to donate blood I have done it before, but not done it for years. The rules do seem immensely strict especially as they are different to those in other countries, I think that’s what seems the strangest to me. How bizarre to rule out all homosexual men. I think donating blood is a fab thing to do an I hope these rules get updated.

  7. January 31, 2017 / 7:04 pm

    I tried to give blood a few times in my late teens and early 20’s and was told no every single time because I ‘get tattooed too often’. In the end, I gave up. It’s a shame because my blood type is rare and could be of use to someone but at the same time, I shouldn’t have to beg for them to take my blood! Even offered to have AIDs and HIV tests and whatever else they needed to prove that having a tattoo hadn’t turned me into a walking disease, but nope. xo

  8. January 8, 2018 / 9:27 pm

    Honestly, massive well done to you for donating. I’m always encouraging people to donate because I had a transfusion just after having my eldest and whilst I would have recovered without it, it would have taken a lot longer. I do agree that some of the rules seem a little outdated. I would really love to donate because I had the transfusion, I’m not allowed to – despite their being testing and procedures for the blood that I received and for any that I would give.

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