I RECENTLY wrote about my wrangle with Welsh Blood and its refusal to allow me to donate blood due to my mask exemption.
The article also questioned the unusual outcome of a Freedom of Information request to Public Health Wales. The request was for evidence regarding the new variant of Covid-19, said to have appeared in December 2020 in the UK and ‘every part’ of Wales.
This apparent evidence informed the U-turn by Welsh Blood, whose officials had previously told me that they would align their practice with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and allow me to donate without a face covering, as I have done for more than 25 years.
At the time of publication of my article, the FOI had timed out and had simply gone unanswered, despite my polite prompt for an answer and despite an apology from Public Health Wales that it hadn’t responded within the legally required 20 days.
Typically, the common response from such public bodies is to say simply that they ‘do not hold’ the requested information, rather than not respond at all.
Last week I received news from Welsh Blood that my second complaint was not going to be upheld. The reason given was because there is currently a distinction between urgent and non-urgent health care in Wales.
The response included the following statement: ‘The guidance received (from PHW) advised that all individuals utilising non-urgent healthcare services including blood donation were required to wear face coverings.’
My complaint comprised two parts; the second part questioning why paradoxically I was able to attend a vaccination appointment – should I choose to do so – unmasked, bearing in mind that both types of appointments take approximately the same amount of time.
The response was thus: ‘The rationale for requiring all donors to wear a face covering is based upon the advice received from Public Health Wales … blood donation, although extremely important to the provision of healthcare services is considered as a non-urgent healthcare service, whereas the provision of vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic is of paramount importance and considered urgent.’
This email also included the assertion that the Welsh Blood Service follows ‘robust and evidence-based scientific guidance from Public Health Wales’.
I therefore responded, thanking them for their time, stating that I intend to make a further FOI request – in true Rottweiler fashion – to see evidence for this ‘robust’ advice.
I casually mentioned my previous published article on this matter. I did not say where to find the article or reference my initial request to PHW, but by curious coincidence I have now received the long-awaited reply to my FOI request, just a couple of days later!
It comes in the form of a letter written by Dr Eleri Davies, interim Executive Medical Director for Public Health Wales, to the Welsh Blood Service in December.
Interestingly, it details the fact that, although said to be more transmissible, there is no evidence so far that infection with this variant is any more severe than with previous virus variants.
Current blood donation guidelines in Wales are still somewhat baffling, however. Although blood donation is said to be non-urgent, travel to donate blood of all blood groups is essential, as confirmed by Welsh Blood.
The Welsh Government website also states that during Tier 4 restrictions, one example of essential travel is ‘to help the NHS by donating blood’.
Indeed, in the December letter from Welsh Blood, its director Alan Prosser thanked me for my support through the provision of my ‘life-saving’ donations. Public figures in Wales seem to have had a busy time of things during the past year when it comes to defining essential and non-essential.
Determining urgent and non-urgent appears to be equally problematic. Surely if this virus and all its strains were so deadly to all, there would be no pedantry whatsoever regarding definitions of retail items and different types of medical appointments.
Interestingly, Scotland has slightly varying rules to those of England and Wales. In Scotland the virus apparently knows to lay low when the health check and the donation is occurring, since masks must be taken off for these procedures.
The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service predictably has slightly differing safety rules. All staff wear face coverings unless they have a medical reason for not doing so.
Notably, its website advises: ‘Please do not worry if a member of staff is not wearing a mask as other infection prevention and control measures are in place to keep everyone at the donation session safe.’ Donors must mask up, however.
Contradictions abound, not only in relation to the face covering issue. Anyone receiving the Covid-19 vaccine is advised not to donate blood for seven days afterwards in the UK, yet some countries such as India are advising no blood donation for one month following vaccination.
Presumably this will affect blood stocks as the vaccination programme continues to roll out worldwide.
We now expect to be wearing masks at least until the end of the year and undoubtedly many people have been so frightened by media propaganda that for them it will remain a lifestyle choice indefinitely. In the US, Dr Anthony Fauci has even been advocating the wearing of two masks.
With new variants being reported on a regular basis and now talk of pets testing positive, it would appear that my blood donating days are over.
Welsh Blood, your complaints department can breathe a masked sigh of relief!