Tory MP questions Government ‘prejudice’ behind gay blood ban

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Tory MP Michael Fabricant has questioned whether there is “prejudice” behind the Government’s reluctance to conduct research into HIV infections among gay men in monogamous relationships.

The UK dropped its ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in 2011, replacing it with a 12-month deferral period.

Mr Fabricant submitted a written question to Ms Ellison, asking whether the Government would consider removing the deferral period for men who have sex with men, if they are in a monogamous relationship.

On 18 June, he asked: “To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to the Answer of 9 June 2015 to Question 740, if he will commission comparative research into the incidence of hepatitis B and HIV infection in (a) the national population, (b) the population of men who have sex with men and (c) men in a civil partnership or married to a man.”

Ms Ellison’s response, reads: “Data on new HIV infections in the United Kingdom are routinely collected through both laboratory submissions and clinic reports as part of ongoing surveillance and are available for the national population and the population of men who have sex with men (MSM). The publically available ‘HIV in the United Kingdom: 2014 Report’ contains data on HIV incidence estimates amongst the national population and MSM.

“There are no plans at the present time to commission research into incidence of HIV in men in a civil partnership or married to a man.

“For the national population, population-based surveillance of acute hepatitis B in England is based on reconciliation of clinical notifications and laboratory reports, for which figures are reported in the Health Protection Report annually.”

The answer continued: “Data are not collected specifically on MSM or men in a civil partnership or married to a man. However, where possible, the most likely route of transmission is recorded following investigation of each case, such as whether the exposure risk relates to sexual activity. There are no plans at the present time to commission new research into infection incidence in MSM, men in a civil partnership or married to a man.”

Mr Fabricant expressed his disappointment at the response, telling PinkNews: “At a time when the number of blood donors has fallen by 40% over the last 10 years and blood supplies sometimes fall as low as 3 days of reserves before they run dry, the stubbornness of the Department of Health to conduct any research into the possibility of monogamous gay couples donating blood is now verging on the bizarre.

“I do now have to question the motives of some of the decision makers concerned.  The potential answers could have less to do with public health and more to do with unscientific prejudice.”

Despite the shortages, gay and bisexual men are still banned from donating blood if they have had sex in the previous twelve months.

In a number of European countries, MSM still face lifetime bans on blood donations under regulations introduced at the height of the AIDS crisis. In the UK, MSM currently face a 12-month deferral period.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in April that it may be justified to indefinitely ban men from giving blood, while hearing the case of a French man who was refused the right to do so.

Though a lifetime ban has been lifted in England, Scotland and Wales, it is not yet abolished across the UK as the Northern Irish DUP refuses to lift the lifetime ban.

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

On introducing the bill, Mr Fabricant said: “This still does not make sense.  It cannot be logical that a gay man practising safe sex with a single partner is banned from giving blood while a straight man having unsafe sex with multiple partners can. There is no logic to this and it is unnecessarily discriminatory.”

The Northern Irish Department of Health recently admitted it does not have any evidence to back up maintaining a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood – but successive Democratic Unionist Party Health Ministers have refused to budge on the issue.

The British Government in January said it was 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.