Editor’s comment: NHS has no interest in my bone marrow

Talia Tosun needs a bone marrow transplant. Picture: Talia Tosun

Talia Tosun needs a bone marrow transplant. Picture: Talia Tosun - Credit: Archant

I was moved by Talia’s story to join the Anthony Nolan register for potential stem cell donors – I am, after all, from a Middle Eastern background on one side, and minority ethnic groups are woefully underrepresented on donor lists.

Unfortunately, at 31, I am apparently too old, so I hauled my zimmerframe over to the NHS' British Bone Marrow Registry, where they take donors up to the ripe age of 40.

Maybe it was my advanced years, but it took me ages to get through all the messages urging me why I should sign up and work out how to actually do it. Then, eventually, I found the message: "You can join the register when you next give blood, or at the same time as your first donation." Oh, well.

Gay men, for those who don't know, were banned from giving blood for life until 2017. It was a bit of a disappointment as my mother is a haematologist and was an almost religious blood donor until she developed a form of skin cancer (thankfully she's been clear for two decades). As I grew up I planned to donate regularly in her place.

Unfortunately, men who'd slept with other men, even once and even decades earlier, were considered such a high risk for HIV that the NHS wasn't interested in our blood at all. Two years ago, the law changed, and now I'm allowed to donate blood so long as I don't have sex for three months. Without going into too much detail, that still rules me - and probably most other people - out.

Blood donation exists for patients, not for donors, so I understand the instinct to be cautious. The historic contaminated blood scandal that has been in the pages of the Ham&High for four years now is a reminder about what happens when checks on donors are lax.

But I also know that if I was in need of a blood or bone marrow transplant, I'd rather the remnants of an arcane and homophobic set of rules weren't exempting loads of potential donors. There must be less stigmatising and more productive ways of filtering candidates and their fluids, doubly so when there is an urgent need for more people to join up. Not to service my or anyone else's saviour complex, but - if nothing else - to give patients the best chance of finding a match.