Government defends ban on gay men giving blood

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A health minister has said that an expert advisory body is keeping under review the ban on men who have had sex with men from donating blood.

Dawn Primarolo was answering a Parliamentary question from Ashok Kumar, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

He asked if the Department for Health plans to allow gay men to donate blood.

Ms Primarolo, the Minister of State for Public Health, said:

“Current policy excludes men who have ever had sex with men, whatever their sexual orientation, from blood donation.

“The United Kingdom adopts a highly precautionary approach to blood safety.

“The guiding principle is that if the best available evidence shows that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a course of action will improve the safety of the blood, this action should be taken.

“The Department is committed to regularly reviewing this evidence, and has asked its expert advisory committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs to do this in 2009.”

The issue was raised in the national press late last year after it emerged that the NBS has been banned from advertising at two student unions because of the blanket ban.

The NBS insists it targets sexual behaviour and not sexual orientation, but in effect virgins are the only gay men whose blood will be accepted for donations.

There is increasing pressure for the ban to be lifted in favour of more sophisticated models.

The National AIDS Trust said:

“The test for HIV used by the blood service is not the most reliable test currently available.

“Furthermore, the only two options considered as an alternative to the current lifetime ban are no restrictions at all and a one year ban – but there are alternatives such as the New Zealand five-year ban.

“A lifetime ban becomes increasingly indefensible when, for example, there would be next to no one alive with undiagnosed HIV fifteen years after they were infected.

“The National Blood Service has said it is willingly to review the ban if there is any new evidence. But it should be doing more.

“Instead of an essentially passive approach it should be proactive in questioning this outdated policy and looking for an alternative to a blanket ban.”

The NBS said in a statement:

“While safer sex through the use of condoms, does reduce the transmission of infections, it cannot eliminate the risk altogether.

“The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour rather than the sexuality of the person wishing to donate.

“There is, therefore, no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man, nor of women who have sex with women.

“The policy would only be changed on the basis of clear evidence that patients would not be put at jeopardy. In addition, scientific advances in virus testing and inactivation are monitored.”

Similar blanket bans have been abolished in South Africa, Spain and Italy.