Michael Fabricant wants to increase our chances of acquiring blood-borne infections. Why?

Misinformed: Michael Fabricant wants to lift a ban on gay men giving blood - but seems seriously misinformed about the subject. [Image: Evening Standard.]

Misinformed: Michael Fabricant wants to lift a ban on gay men giving blood – but seems seriously misinformed about the subject. [Image: Evening Standard.]

Perhaps he has been flailing around for a campaigning subject, what with all the good ones being in opposition to the Conservatives.

Perhaps he thinks pushing otherwise-healthy people into an already-overstretched National Health Service will be a good advert for privatisation. It’s crazy, but it’s a possibility.

There can be few other reasons for Michael Fabricant’s weak bid to poison UK blood supplies by allowing people who may not know they are infected to donate.

He reckons a ban on sexually promiscuous gay men should be lifted as straight men who behave in the same manner do not suffer the same discrimination, which is insane.

There are several things wrong with this. Firstly, he is misrepresenting the issue.

The ban does not affect only sexually promiscuous gay men – it affects any man who has had sex with another man, with or without a condom. This clearly discriminates against gay men who are in a monogamous relationship in which both partners are free of infection. They should not be covered by the ban.

Sexually promiscuous gay men, however, should.

Secondly, the ban was put in place – unless the memory cheats – because blood supplies donated by gay men were discovered to be infected with HIV. Anybody can see that a ban on anything that could spread HIV is entirely sensible and should only be lifted if technology has moved on enough for doctors to spot infected blood immediately or screen out the infection in blood that has been donated.

It has been suggested that this has happened and the time period of the ban should be reduced to the period it takes for screening tests to be effective. This seems reasonable, as long as a prospective donor can show that they have been through the screening process. Professor John Forsyth of the government’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs has made it clear that the situation is under constant review.

So Fabricant should be calling for a reduction in the ban – not its outright removal.

Thirdly: In fact, Fabricant himself skimmed over the responsible approach to the issue, which is that “neither straight people nor gay people who have had unsafe sex should give blood.” He added, “within 12 months,” but we could probably reduce that according to when it is possible to screen for infection, as suggested above.

Perhaps that would result in too few people volunteering to give any blood at all. You can’t blame them for that – Fabricant’s Tories have forced hard times on the masses.

Who can blame them for turning to a bit of good old-fashioned earthy sex to cheer themselves up?

Note: This article has been revised after several commenters informed this blog of gaps in Fabricant’s information and of technological advances. VP is grateful to them.

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  1. Gordon Powrie August 16, 2014 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Think you’re wrong on this one, Mike; I think the blood is tested after donation, isn’t it?

    • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 11:30 am - Reply

      Does that make it all right for infected people to donate? If blood-borne diseases get into the equipment, how much effort does it take to get rid of them? How much time? Isn’t it better to discourage people who may be infected from trying to donate in the first place, on a ‘better safe than sorry’ basis?
      The nub of this matter is that some people want to make this a discrimination issue when it should be a safety issue. That’s why I suggest in the article that promiscuous straight men who practise unsafe sex should also be excluded.

      • Jeff Scarisbrick-Wright August 16, 2014 at 11:51 am - Reply

        wow, Mike, this is the first time I’ve disagreed with you this passionately. Get into the equipment? All blood taking and testing paraphernalia is one use only. There is zero chance of cross contaminating someone unless the blood is used untested. Which it is not.

        Straight people have HIV, they have Hepatitis, they have a host of things that are a problem for donation. The rules on gay donation stem from a time when AIDS was new and poorly understood. Absolutely no-one infected should be donating. But given that that could be every straight person who walks through the door the issue swings straight back to discrimination and the perception that gay men are promiscuous and careless.

        It is my opinion that you are on the wrong side of this issue.

        • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 12:43 pm - Reply

          Thanks for the information about the equipment, but you’ll notice I was asking a question about that because I did not know the answer. I have made it clear that I am happy to receive information about this.
          I covered the issue of discrimination against gay men, though: “In fact, Fabricant himself skimmed over the responsible approach to the issue, which is that ‘neither straight people nor gay people who have had unsafe sex should give blood within 12 months’.”
          You say yourself that “absolutely no-one infected should be donating”.
          So where are we at odds?

      • Andy August 16, 2014 at 12:02 pm - Reply

        But it is a problem because you are saying that all gay people are by definition sexually promiscuous, I have been in a monogomous gay relationship for 20 years, but because i am gay, I am a risk. The logic does not stand up.Many gay folk are, many straight folk are.

        Sure, ask for a profile of folks (gay or straight) sexual behaviour if they have had over a certain number of partners, there should be queries. (And yes blood is tested after extraction).

        But I too see you as wrong on this one Mike and though using logic may seem ok at heart it is still a matter of prejudice as the default position is that all gay people are infected rather than that everyone by default could be a risk. I have wanted to give blood many times but because of my sexuality I have been turned away.

        • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 12:37 pm - Reply

          Where do I say that “all gay people are by definition sexually promiscuous”, Andy? I didn’t; I don’t.

          If you have been in a monogamous relationship for 20 years, then it seems clear that you are entirely at liberty to give blood under the current rules.

          Your comment about the default position is not accurate. If you are not sexually promiscuous there is no bar on you giving blood. I cannot understand why you would be turned away under those circumstances.

      • Andy August 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm - Reply

        I agree you don’t say it Mike but as others have said the argument itself stems from the default position that gay people are inherently a risk because of biased opinons from the 80’s, so the whole group is banned. I provide a link below which shows this is the case

        When all bloods are tested when rates of transmission in HIV in straight people is increasing at an alarming rate, when all the bloods taken are tested for HIV and other blood born diseases as a matter of course. I think we’re both in agreement that it’s not a sexuality debate, but the decision to ban gay folk is

        ‘fraid you’re wrong in the last bit it is not about being sexually promiscuous or not it is about if you are gay or not, if you declare yourself as gay you are not allowed to give blood.


        • WordPress.com Support August 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm - Reply

          Yes – I was taking Fabricant’s information as being accurate, and of course it wasn’t. He is a Conservative MP, after all.

      • David K. August 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm - Reply

        There is a fallacy in the following statement, Mike: “The nub of this matter is that some people want to make this a discrimination issue when it should be a safety issue.” The continued blanket ban on men who engage in non-straight sexual activity donating blood, which was lifted in 2011, may have been instituted in the first place as a safety precaution, but it was retained until so recently predominantly for the benefit of public relations, which means it pandered to common prejudices. It discounts the possibility of any would-be donor being able to assess the level of risk their sexual activity entails and whether or not it poses a health risk to others. There is no good reason why someone who suspects their blood to be contaminated should wish to donate blood that is a) useless for transfusion and b) potentially harmful. Furthermore, the advice on who should not give blood is not a ‘ban’ as such – it depends upon would-be donors abiding by the advice and not giving blood if requested not to, even if they think their own blood is safe because they only have one sexual partner or always use a condom. The so-called ban is an ‘honour system’ which relies on people doing what they are asked to do, and that is what people are putting their faith in if they think they need to be protected from ‘gay blood.’ It’s quite sweet in a way to see that people have so much faith in other people’s deference to authority.

        • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 5:44 pm - Reply

          It still is a safety issue, even if the system now relies in individuals using their own judgement about whether to donate or not.
          I notice that you say there was a ban but it has been lifted and the system now relies on the would-be donor abiding by the advice they are given – this would, of course, indicate that yet another part of Fabricant’s statement was inaccurate. This guy doesn’t seem to know much about anything, does he?
          Then again, maybe his comments were made in order to provide a knee-jerk reaction from members of the commentariat. In that case – and considering the response this article has received in some quarters, perhaps I’m the bigger fool this time around.
          Oh well. At least we got a debate out of it.

  2. jaypot2012 August 16, 2014 at 11:48 am - Reply

    I have a son who is gay (and whom I love to bits), he’s in a steady relationship and has been with his partner for over 6 years. However, I still agree that gay people should NOT donate as men will be men and can have discreet one night stands etc. Men are much more promiscuous than women and that goes with gay or straight.
    Maybe when blood screening is easier and is done quickly someway, then perhaps gay men would be able to donate, certainly those in steady relationships.
    I used to give blood for years whilst my husband gave plasma and was often called in to donate more plasma as somebody needed his type urgently.
    Unfortunately, hubby had a brain hemorrhage, became disabled with it and his medication stopped him being able to donate. The same happened to me due to the amount of different tablets I have to take for my disabilities :(
    As for the idiot that isn’t a condom, but should have been caught in one, he really doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about – but then again, he’s just like the rest of the Cons.

    • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      I should point out that gay men in a steady relationship should be able to donate under the current rules.

  3. drewdog2060drewdog2060 August 16, 2014 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    The window period for the appearance of HIV is 3 months and the advice is that people are tested after this time-frame as earlier testing may not detect the virus. Consequently, as I understand it, anyone who has had unsafe sex and donates blood before the passage of 3 months may led to the infection of the supply with HIV which could, potentially go undetected. I am not a medical expert but that is my understanding.

  4. casalealex August 16, 2014 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    A blood donation occurs when a person voluntarily has blood drawn and used for transfusions and/or made into biopharmaceutical medications by a process called fractionation (separation of whole-blood components).

    Potential donors are evaluated for anything that might make their blood unsafe to use. The screening includes testing for diseases that can be transmitted by a blood transfusion, including HIV and viral hepatitis. The donor must also answer questions about medical history and take a short physical examination to make sure the donation is not hazardous to his or her health.

    Donors are screened for health risks that could make the donation unsafe for the recipient. Some of these restrictions are controversial, such as restricting donations from MSM (men who have sex with men) for HIV risk.

    In 2011, the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) reduced its blanket ban on MSM donors to a narrower restriction which only prevents MSM from donating blood if they have had sex with other men within the past year.

    In early 2012 the Department of Health in the United Kingdom asked for comments on a pilot study to “assess alternative policies that would allow some gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

    More Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_donation

  5. Johnny Dee August 16, 2014 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Unfollowing. Sad and prejudiced. The situation is more nuanced than you are capable of describing, and you don’t bother to compare with other national health services. Oh well.

    • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 12:51 pm - Reply

      If it is more nuanced than I have described, then it is certainly more nuanced than Mr Fabricant was suggesting.
      I fail to see why you describe the article as prejudiced.

  6. Johannah Buchan August 16, 2014 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I can’t believe this. It’s verging on homophobia. It’s OK for promiscuous straight guys but not for safe-safe & celibate gay guys?

    • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      No – the ban applies only to sexually promiscuous gay men who practise unsafe sex.
      Fabricant is saying it is discriminatory and sexually promiscuous gay men should be allowed to donate blood, whether they have infections or not.
      My attitude was that it would be more sensible to apply the ban to promiscuous straight people.
      Another commenter has said that it is possible to screen people for HIV within three months of sexual contact. From that, it would seem sensible for any ban to last only as long as it takes to be screened for possible infections (of any kind) – as long as the person offering the blood has actually been through the screening process.

  7. Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    In a sense, Johnny Dee is right that the situation is more complicated than can be described in an article about Michael Fabricant’s ideas. For example, here’s a website showing the history of haemophiliacs’ struggle for justice after being provided contaminated blood by the National Health Service. I’ve only dipped into the site but it makes very interesting reading:

  8. Tony Dean August 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Who is allowed to give blood and who barred from giving blood is a scientific decision NOT a political one.
    Some cold hard facts untarnished by political correctness:-



  9. drewdog2060drewdog2060 August 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Gay men are not the only group excluded from giving blood. Anyone who
    has ever worked as a prostitute is, I understand banned for life while
    clients of sex workers are prohibited from donating blood for a
    specified period following intercourse. One could argue that escorts
    who use protection are, on average less likely to spread diseases than
    men and women who engage in unprotected sex with one night stands.
    Those who have travelled to malaria areas are also restricted for a
    period following their return to the UK while their are restrictions
    on those who have had intercourse in countries with a high prevalence
    of HIV/AIDS. Women who have had sex with bisexual men are also subject
    to restrictions. In short gay men are not the only people who face

    • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      No, but Fabricant chose to focus on them, and that’s why the article did the same.

  10. matt August 16, 2014 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    AT first glance of his photo I thought it was Kellie Maloney, ex boxing promoter

  11. Leoni Al-ajeel August 16, 2014 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    I do not believe that anyone who is at greater risk of HIV should be allowed to give blood. what happens if someone does not do his job right and the blood is not tested correctly, this is dangerous ground. Its nothing to do with with discrimination of gay people its just a case of being safe, also it is not just gay people, prostitutes also are high risk. I would not like it if i had to have a transfusion with the thought that possibly it may be from an unsafe source.

  12. Kirsty Buchanan August 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    I see why this had been in place about men when the male to female ratio of HIV diagnoses made before 1995 was around 6 to 1, whereas in 2011 the ratio for new diagnoses was around 2.1 males to 1.0 female and in Scotland, sex between men has accounted for 71 percent of all new HIV diagnoses since 2004. A review of the rules may very well be needed but i think the safety of patients is the top priority. If the blood is going to be tested before use then i dont see why any person should be excluded from giving blood.

  13. johnny dee August 16, 2014 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    If its more rational and less discriminatory to exclude all promiscuous people, then say that. Much more defensible. And couple it with a new drive to sign up more donors. But your tone up in the post was shockingly off hand and offensive. Lost a few on this one.

    • Mike Sivier August 16, 2014 at 6:14 pm - Reply

      I did say that, Johnny.
      Signing up more donors is not my job. My only concern was to point out how wrong Michael Fabricant’s words were.
      I can’t do anything about the way other people read the article.

  14. david August 17, 2014 at 6:24 am - Reply

    bah it’s about profit Mike, pure and simple. When I worked in the NHS I was liaison with the NHSBT and was told that they’d been privatised (OK was back in 2003). Been searching to find this info for you but no luck, only found a couple of bits on Bain capital having majority interest in the plasma side of transfusion (and I’m surprised that’s available) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23372989

    • Mike Sivier August 17, 2014 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Bain Capital only took that over last year.

      • david August 17, 2014 at 8:45 pm - Reply

        there was private interest before then Mike as I said just can’t find it atm and it was a controlling interest in the transplant and transfusion service. Sorry memory not what it was or could have quoted you names etc

        • WordPress.com Support August 17, 2014 at 8:53 pm - Reply

          It would be from before my time writing the political column so I’m not aware of it myself. Will try to research.

  15. Yosserian Hughes. August 17, 2014 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Nowt to complain about.

    Overweight and/or smokers are discriminated against when they go for operations/ treatment on the grounds that they’re contributin’ to their conditions (Usually heart disease/cancer[s]) by their ‘lifestyles’.

    Except cancer(s) & heart disease are non-contagious.

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