Twitter hashtag #BleedForEngland was trending worldwide on 25 September. The Twitter campaign was started by NHS Give Blood in an attempt to rally people to sign up as blood donors. While many tweeted their support and posted messages saying they had signed up as donors, the hashtag was quickly taken over by a number of gay men who said they would love to be blood donors but were prevented from doing so due to being sexually active.
The lifetime ban on gay men donating blood was lifted in 2011 in the UK, however, NHS rules still prevent sexually active homosexual men from being blood donors. The rules state: "You should not donate blood for 12 months after having sex with: A man (if you are male) – with or without a condom." It also says that women who have had sex with a homosexually active man cannot be blood donors for 12 months.
"It's wrong – it's institutionalised discrimination," said Tim Polder, founder of the #PutRedBack campaign that aims to tackle the problem of gay men being able to donate blood. "It came out of the HIV pandemic in the eighties and no one thought about updating the policies.
"Now we understand the disease a lot better; hepatitis B is actually worse because it's got a much longer window period. But every little bit of blood is tested so why not get rid of this? And as a bonus we might even get more blood in our blood banks because the 20 to 35 year generation is not donating." The #PutRedBack campaign has taken red out of the iconic LGBT rainbow flag and is vowing not to put it back in until UK policy on blood donation is changed.
A number of men took over NHS' blood donation hashtag campaign to protest against the rules. Some have argued that with the NHS experiencing a shortage of blood donors, the rules preventing sexually active gay men from donating are not only outdated but are also putting lives at risk.
Earlier this year the NHS' 'Missing Type' campaign highlighted the fact that over the past ten years there had been a 40% drop in the number of new blood donors. In September they revealed that fewer than 3% of people between the age of 17 and 70 in England have donated blood during the past one year.
A press release by the NHS launching the #BleedForEngland campaign stated: "While blood stocks are currently good, new donors are crucial to replacing donors who don't donate any more and will help ensure we have the right type and number of donors to provide the right mix of blood to match patient need in the future." It also said that more than 6,000 blood donations are needed every day to effectively treat patients across the country.