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Councillor’s fury over ‘archaic and homophobic’ blood donor rules

London SE1 website team

The exclusion of some gay and bisexual men from trials of a possible new COVID-19 treatment has been condemned by Borough & Bankside councillor Victor Chamberlain who has raised his concerns with NHS bosses and health secretary Matt Hancock.

As we reported at the weekend, experts from King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust are helping to lead trials of a 'convalescent plasma' treatment which involves blood plasma donations from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

As with giving blood, NHS rules prevent men who have had sex with another man in the last three months from participating.

In his letter to the health secretary, Cllr Chamberlain wrote: "I am deeply troubled to learn that gay and bisexual men will be excluded from donating their plasma for the COVID-19 convalescent plasma trial currently taking place at Guy's Hospital.

"This prohibition is discriminatory, arbitrary and regressive.

"As a gay man, I'm so disappointed that fellow gay and bisexual men who want to help fight COVID-19 are being prevented from doing so by archaic and homophobic rules.

"Southwark currently has the eighth highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

"Southwark and Lambeth (which are served by the Guys and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust) also have the highest number of LGBTQ+ residents in the whole country.

"To exclude a significant proportion of our local population who can potentially participate safely in the trial is completely unacceptable."

NHS bosses are keen to stress that the eligibility criteria are not set by Guy's and St Thomas' and are in line with the national rules for those able to give blood.

An NHS Blood and Transplant spokesperson told SE1: "We are using the current donor selection guidelines.

"The Government set the three month deferral based on expert advice from a Department of Health and Social Care expert committee called SaBTO.

"We appreciate that any deferral is disappointing if you want to save lives by giving blood, platelets or plasma.

"We recognise that people want to be considered as individuals as much as possible. Separately to the convalescent plasma trial, we are already working collaboratively with LGBT+ groups on blood donation, through the FAIR steering group.

"The FAIR group is using an evidence-based approach to explore if a more individualised blood donation risk assessment can be safely and practically introduced, while ensuring the safe supply of blood to patients.

"We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to donate whilst continuing to ensure the safety of patients remains our number one priority."

Cllr Chamberlain has also written to Dr Ian Abbs, chief executive of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, to air his concerns.

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