I walked past an ad trying to find blood donors today. As a frustrated blood donor, it annoyed me.
I used to be a vaguely regular blood donor. From the time that I turned 18 (and became eligible) to around 28, I would have given blood maybe once or twice a year (a perfect record is once a quarter). I liked to think it was something I could do for the community.
But then the Australian red cross (in my view) succumbed to hysteria. It banned from blood donation anyone who had lived in Britain for more than six months since 1980. So I was banned for life. The reason? It was so long ago, you’ve probably forgotten the hysteria. Mad cow disease. As far as I know, no-one has ever demonstrably caught CJD from donated blood. The UK certainly continues to accept donated blood from its own population, without asking whether they are vegetarians.
So Australia rejected what was estimated at the time to be 5% of its blood donating population for a risk that was seen as remote at the time and still has never eventuated.
The trouble with this, is that there is a real risk to the population if there are low blood supplies. But that risk is difficult to sheet home to one individual. If there wasn’t enough blood available, then surgeries might be delayed, people might get fluids rather than blood, if the decision was marginal. It seems likely to me that having a 5% lower blood supply for the last 10 years has almost certainly caused some poorer outcomes in some Australian patients than would otherwise occur.
But for a risk that seems less and less likely by the year, we are willing to put up with these poorer outcomes, or the Australian Red Cross has decided to make that trade-off for us.