UK Government to consider study to allow gay, monogamous couples to donate blood

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The British Government is considering whether to conduct a study into whether gay or bisexual men in monogamous, same-sex relationships should still have to wait 12 months after having sex to donate blood.

Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year calling for the gay blood ban to be removed.

Just before Christmas, Mr Fabricant met with Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, and members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues, and Organs (SaBTO), to discuss the possibility of a study into whether men in monogamous, same-sex relationships, could be exempt from the 12-month deferral period men who have sex with men (MSM) are currently subject to.

PinkNews has seen copies of correspondence between a highly-respected, award-winning NHS haematologist and Mr Fabricant. The doctor asked to remain anonymous, but called for more research to be done.

He wrote to Mr Fabricant: “I am a practicing haematologist, and therefore transfusion matters form a substantial part of my daily NHS work. The National Blood Service is an incredible, world leading, pioneering and hugely impressive organisation, for which I have enormous respect. It has made the UK probably the safest country in the world in which to receive a blood transfusion. It has moved with new challenges, threats and scientific developments and its training and guidelines are unrivalled internationally. However the matter of excluding gay men from transfusion, and the bizarre compromise of insisting on abstinence for a year prior to any donation, is prejudicial, illogical and reinforces a social stigma that has in other areas been reduced enormously, such as an area for which I understand you have campaigned – gay marriage.”

He continued to say that he had written to the chair of the European Committee on Blood Transfustion, and to the UK Blood Transfusion Services’ Joint Professional Advisory Committee, but that he received no response addressing the concerns.

Jane Ellison responded to Mr Fabricant: “As was agreed at the meeting, I will write to Public Health England regarding the possibility of designing a study to see if it is possible to set blood donor deferral criteria specifically for a sub-population at a different level to the current 12 month deferral for all MSM. We also discussed the forthcoming NHSBT blood donor survey, the results of which are expected to be published early next year and which may provide additional useful information to reflect upon.

“I would emphasise, as I did when I met with you on 1 December, that this is not based on sexual orientation but sexual behaviour… ”

Mr Fabricant told PinkNews; “At the meeting with the Minister and the SaBTO who advise the Blood Transfusion Service, it became clear that their decisions are based on understandable caution but lack authoritative data. No research has been done on the incidence of HIV or Hepatitis infection amongst gay couples in a monogamous relationship. I am now calling on the Department of Health to commission this research as a matter of urgency. It is in the interests of recipients of blood as well as the need to prevent unwarranted discrimination, as there is a shortage of donors, that this be undertaken without further delay.

“Research currently underway – referred to by the minister in her letter – will not be available until April or May and, in any event, only applies to the general cohort of gay or bisexual men or as the Department of Health quaintly put it: Men who have sex with Men, MSM.  It does not include research on gay men in a monogamous relationship.

“I was particularly annoyed by SaBTO officials who when confronted by me asking how might it be clinically possible for monogamous gay couples to become infected, they replied asking how can either partner be trusted to tell the truth of their sexual behaviour to Transfusion officials? When I responded saying that the same might be said of straight blood donors, no reply was forthcoming. There is clearly a mind-set driven by understandable caution and public safety on the one hand, and downright prejudice on the other. This is particularly relevant now that we’ve had a number of years of Civil Partnerships and more recently same-sex marriage.

“It clearly makes no scientific or medical sense for a promiscuous straight man to be a blood donor while a monogamous loving gay couple may not.”

Ed Miliband last week called for a review of the blood ban, which stops sexually active gay and bisexual men from giving blood.

Last month, the FDA in the US announced that a permanent ban on MSM donating blood should end, in favour of a 12-month deferral system similar to England, Wales and Scotland.

Northern Ireland maintains a permanent ban on MSM blood donation, as the DUP consistently block all attempts to reform the measure.