MSPs ask for more information on gay blood ban

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A committee of the Scottish parliament is to ask the country’s government and various blood and tissue donation organisations to explain why men who have sex with men are barred from donating.

The petitions committee met yesterday afternoon at Holyrood to consider a submission from Mr Rob McDowall calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review existing guidelines and risk assessment procedures to allow healthy gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

The Committee agreed to seek responses to the issues raised in the petition from the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, Joint United Kingdom Blood Transfusion Services and National Institute of Biological Standards and Control Professional Advisory Committee, Advisory Committee for Safety and Blood, Tissues and Organs, Bloodban, Terrence Higgins Trust and the Equality Network.

Mr McDowall told MSPs:

“People are being asked about their individual risk, rather than being told it’s because it’s a lifestyle choice they are making.”

He claimed that in Spain and Italy the number of people contracting HIV from blood donations has fallen since a blanket ban on gay men donating was lifted.

Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Ross Finnie MSP said:

“I’m pleased that the Scottish Government admits that “advances in blood transfusion safety procedures may allow gay and bisexual male donors to donate.”

“But Ministers have so far refused to do anything to introduce new and improved testing mechanisms that could make it safe to lift the blanket ban on gay men donating blood.

“I urge the Minister for Public Health to reconsider this position and examine the case for introducing a testing regime that would provide good grounds for the relevant bodies to look again at the current restrictions.”

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) maintains that it is not a question of being gay or bisexual but the risk involved.

It does not recognise safe sex practices among men who have sex with men (MSM) as safe, despite the rapidly rising HIV infections among heterosexuals.

UK’s National Blood Service (NBS) also bars men who have had sex with other men from donating blood, even if they used a condom.

A statement on their website says: “It is specific behaviours, rather than being gay, which places gay men at increased risk of HIV infection.

“Safer sex will keep most gay men free from infection, however research shows that allowing gay men as a group to donate blood would increase the risk of HIV infected blood entering the blood supply.

“Abolishing the rule for gay men would increase the risk of HIV infected donations entering the blood supply by about five times, and changing the rule to allow gay men to donate one year after they last had sex with another man would increase the risk by 60 per cent.”

According to Section 28 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations “it is not unlawful for a blood service to refuse to accept a donation of a person’s blood where that refusal is determined by an assessment of risk to the public based on – clinical, epidemiological data obtained from a source on which it was reasonable to rely.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman told The Times:

“It is sometimes necessary to exclude people whose blood would probably be safe because they are from part of a group that carries a high risk.”