Caroline Lucas: ‘Ban discrimination – not gay men giving blood’

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Green MP Caroline Lucas says blanket restrictions preventing gay and bisexual men from giving blood must end.

The MP for Brighton Pavilion has given her backing to a petition that urges Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to change the rules.

Ms Lucas said: “I’m proud to stand up for an end to the discriminatory restrictions on gay men donating blood.

“Not that long ago the rules were improved, but it’s still the case that gay men are discriminated against – and it prevents gay men from giving others the freedom to live.”

At present, men who have sex with men (MSM), can only donate if they have not had sex for 12 months or more.

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral.

A lifetime ban remains in place in Northern Ireland.

Ms Lucas said: “The current rules are not backed by the scientific evidence, which supports a six-month window before donating blood after a possible risk – for all donors regardless of sexual orientation – on the basis that tests for HIV and Hepatitis C can detect infection within that time.

“I have long lobbied Parliament for a change to these laws and will continue to campaign for the government to offer more opportunities for blood screening – and ensure the increased supplies of safe blood our health service so urgently needs.”

Later this autumn, the MP will table a parliamentary motion calling for “full equality in blood donation” and abolishing the 12-month deferral rule for gay and bisexual men.

The one-year deferral was chosen in part by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) because of Hepatitis B, which disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men.

While there is a four-week window between transmission and detection of HIV, Hepatitis B can take up to a year to be cleared by the body.

However, advocates of a non-discriminatory approach say this could be addressed by a targeted Hepatitis B vaccination programme among gay and bisexual men.

In June, the Department of Health (DH) rejected calls by the Green Party to end the restrictions.

A DH spokesperson told “The 12-month deferral reflects the heightened risk men who have sex with men have from blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B.

“It allows for the period of time these viruses can go undetected by screening tests and lessens the risk of infection in people who need blood donations.”

The Department of Health also suggested that a fresh review would be premature as SaBTO had issued its recommendations less than three years ago.