Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Why giving blood now really makes me see red

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service is under very close scrutiny at the moment.

The fact that the ban on gay men giving blood is still in place over here has been argued and called into question by the whole gamut of prominent public figures including medical experts, politicians, TV presenters and church leaders.

It's been debated on Newsnight, Spotlight, the Nolan Show, in the national press, the Houses of Parliament, at Stormont and down the local hairdressers ... yet in the meantime, while all this high-profile bickering is going on, the levels of donors here are approaching an all-time low.

“In Northern Ireland, around 500 patients need life-saving blood each week. To ensure an adequate supply to our hospitals, we need 300 people to give blood every day,” said our Health Minister, Edwin Poots, recently.

He went on: “Currently only 6 per cent of Northern Ireland’s eligible population gives blood. That means 94 per cent of the population do not donate. I would urge everyone eligible across the province to consider becoming a donor.”

That was just before he went on to insist that blood from gay people was totally unacceptable ... along with all the other people who are banned for one reason or another.

For an organisation that plays such a crucial part in all our lives, and provides such a vital service, this confusion and controversy is surely a disaster. If anything, all it does is to alienate and exclude huge chunks of the population and put people off who might have otherwise been keen to become involved.

But it's not just the squabbling politicians who are exacerbating this current crisis. A lot of the problem is caused by the red tape that is involved whenever a new donor does go to sign up. I have been there myself on numerous occasions and each time the forms seem to get more complicated and restrictive.

User-friendly it certainly ain’t.

As well as the gay men, those who have had sex with somebody in Africa or anyone who has had a piercing or tattoo within the last few months is also sent home too. Which just about rules out most people under the age of 30 living in Northern Ireland these days.

Before I moved to NI in 1990, I was a regular blood donor, happy and proud to be putting something so important back for the common good.

Since then, it's been a different story altogether. Three times I have attempted to recommence the practice and three times I have been summarily rejected. The first time, it was because I'd had my nostril pierced within twelve months which, because a needle was involved, apparently made me about as desirable to them as a self-injecting drug addict. This had never ocurred to me as a problem as I knew that they screen blood for infections and diseases once it has been taken, but nevertheless it was enough to be shown the door, past all the tattooed and pierced fraternity who were also destined to the same walk of shame after me.

And all this without so much as a Rich Tea biscuit to see me on my way.

The second time I was rejected because of medication I'd been taking. The third time it was because I was slightly anaemic and had low blood pressure.

By the time I'd left the building, for a third time, after a lengthy wait, form-filling, thumb-pricking and blood testing, my blood pressure had certainly gone up a few notches.

All of which leads me to conclude that giving blood nowadays — or, more accurately, trying to get them to take it — is like getting blood out of a stone.

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