The SNP conference, which kicks off today, will debate the issue of the 12-month deferral period for gay and bisexual men giving blood, 5 years after it was first raised at conference.
Conference delegates will debate the issue in a motion lodged by the Leith Branch of the party. The motion supports a lifting of the blanket 12-month deferral period for all abstaining gay and bisexual men and seeks to shift the risk assessment of any blood borne virus reaching blood stocks onto an assessment of the individual’s circumstances.
East Kilbride MSP and LGBT+ rights champion, Linda Fabiani, first raised a motion at conference in 2011, condemning the UK’s Government’s replacement of the outright ban with the current one year deferral, and described it then as “wholly inadequate”.
With no movement on the deferral period, which many see as an un-scientific and discriminatory ban, the MSP then wrote to her colleague Alex Neil who was the Health Minister in 2013, urging a re-think on the policy. There was no change in direction by the Scottish Government.
Health is a wholly devolved area of policy in Scotland and therefore the Scottish Government has the power to introduce its own rules in this area. Advice on blood product use in Scotland is taken from a UK-wide body called the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO). A review of donor rules was announced this year by the committee, the first since 2011. This review will include specific attention to the rules around donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) and whether an individual assessment of risk is more appropriate.
Linda Fabiani commented on the latest motion to be put before Conference and told us:
“It is good that this issue is being discussed again, but I would much rather it was no longer necessary! I do support this motion at conference. I hope my optimism is not misplaced that following the announcement earlier this year of the review into blood donation rules, common sense will prevail and this discriminatory practice stopped.”
The SaBTO review will also consider a pilot from the Welsh Blood Service, which has been using an electronic donor questionnaire for blood donations and could support the case for individual risk assessment rather than a blanket deferral period for all.
SNP MP for Glasgow South, Stewart McDonald has spoken passionately about the issue and now chairs the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Donation. He told Pink Saltire:
“I welcome this motion which aims to increase the blood stock whilst always maintaining its safety and integrity.”
“There is a body of evidence which shows the 12-month deferral period for MSM donating blood could be reduced to 3 months and we should be looking at all restrictions on donation as there continues to be a shortage of blood.”
“It is crucial that SaBTO’s current review on blood donation looks at the science of this issues, so that future policy will ensure as many people as possible are able to achieve this life-saving act.”
The national campaign to overturn the deferral period and to lift the ban on MSM giving blood is fronted by ‘Freedom to Donate’. You can follow the updates and information from the group on their Facebook site, just click below.