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Blood Donation (Equality)

Volume 586: debated on Wednesday 22 October 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow donation of blood by all male donors on the same basis; and for connected purposes.

Sometimes, Mr Speaker, you just know when something is wrong; when something does not make sense; when something is not fair. How can it be logical that a straight, promiscuous man who might have different partners every night of the year can donate blood, while a gay man in a monogamous, loving relationship cannot, unless he has certified that he has been totally celibate for the past year? How can a nation that has just passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 block those same people from donating blood? It used to be even worse. Gay people were banned altogether until the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who is in her place, and who, when a Health Minister, rolled back the rules. I pay tribute to her for that. She deserves to be, and indeed is, a gay icon.

Each day in England, about 8,000 people donate blood in hospitals, in blood donation trucks, and even here in the Palace of Westminster. Those in this House who have donated will know that it is a relatively quick process—and if they have been a brave little boy like me, they might even get a sticker from the nurse! It is a truly special act, and our NHS relies on it in order to help people in emergencies, those being treated for some cancers, and those who have liver disease, as well as those suffering from many other illnesses that can be treated only through the generosity of others.

However, there are shortages. Of the eight blood groups, some are much rarer than others, and stocks are extremely low. Indeed, a friend of mine regularly and safely donates relatively rare type O rhesus negative blood, which is badly needed. But he has to tell a lie in order to do so. Safety must be the main issue above all others: safety for patients receiving blood and safety too for those donating blood. Nothing in this Bill should jeopardise that, and that is why it has cross-party support from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru colleagues, as well as those from my own Conservative party.

Perhaps at this stage it is important to reflect on the historical reasons for our current regulations on gay blood donation. In the early 1980s, when doctors first recognised the connection between blood contamination and the newly discovered so-called gay plague, AIDS, an instant ban was placed on blood donors who were in high-risk categories, such as those who shared needles, those who visited prostitutes and, of course, the gay community—and that was right. Others too, such as people who have visited sub-Saharan Africa, were considered to be at high risk. Most of those categories remain in place to this day.

Many in this House will remember those days when AIDS was a killer without treatment. It had an even higher fatality rate than Ebola has today. It was a killer without mercy. I know what it was like. A young friend of mine in his early 30s, once fit and active, died in 1992 from this awful disease. Thankfully, times have moved on. Today, HIV/AIDS is labelled as a chronic illness and is no longer the killer it once was. Huge advances in medicine and treatments mean that a diagnosis is not a death sentence, but something that can be managed.

More relevant to this Bill, screening is highly efficient and quick. Detection of HIV/AIDS can be made within weeks, and accuracy is near perfect. AIDS and HIV are not the only problems faced when looking at gay blood donation. Hepatitis B also tends to affect the gay community more than other groups and is transmitted in a similar way to HIV. Detection also takes longer—months rather than weeks. With this evidence, I am not arguing that potential gay blood donors pose no risk to the blood pool in 2014. My argument is one of simple logic. If a monogamous, healthy, sexually active gay man has been tested and has neither HIV/AIDS nor hepatitis B, and is not having sex with anyone with HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B, why should he be prevented from donating blood?

During the summer, when I first made my argument for what I call equal blood, I listened to a number of medical professionals explain the dangers of generally lifting the gay blood ban, but there was not a single argument against the simple logic that I have just set out. Logic applies to medicine just as it does to any science. In Europe, four countries have no restrictions whatsoever on gays donating blood, as in several states of the United States, but that is not exactly what I am advocating. AIDS, HIV, and hepatitis B are all still major concerns in relation to blood donation, but I want equal rules to apply to both the straight and the gay communities. If we are to require gay men to be healthy, and to have sex only with other men who have been tested and shown to be healthy before they can give blood, surely that should apply to straight men and women too. We have a shortage of blood donors. Rules that ban those who are healthy, and who clearly pose no more risk than the average straight person, do not make any sense. It is time that this issue is finally addressed by the Government.

I am extremely proud that it was this Government who introduced and legislated on equal marriage. That legislation has made a huge difference to the lives and happiness of many couples. I now hope that, on the same logic, the Government will follow suit on equal blood. An expert medical and scientific committee, independent of the national blood transfusion service, should look at this again, taking scientific evidence from other countries which, on this matter, are now ahead of our own. I hope that its findings will enable even more people to donate blood safely for all, building up our blood reserves in order to save lives and to sustain a very precious lifeline to those most in need. This should also be done because, yes, it is the right thing to do.

Question put and agreed to.


That Michael Fabricant, Sir Tony Baldry, Keith Vaz, Sir John Randall, Tim Farron, Ann Clwyd, Jonathan Edwards, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mr Nigel Evans, Duncan Hames, Steve Baker and Mr Aidan Burley present the Bill.

Michael Fabricant accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 March 2015 and to be printed (Bill 104).