Government to ‘review’ blood ban for gay and bisexual men

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The government has confirmed it will review the ban gay and bisexual men donating blood.

At present in England, Wales and Scotland, men who have sex with men are deferred from giving blood for 12 months. A permanent ban remains in place in Northern Ireland, subject to ongoing legal action.

Activists have previously complained that the rules, introduced at the height of the AIDS crisis, do not reflect modern screening capabilities.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant, who backs the ‘Freedom to Donate’ campaign, pointed out that promiscuous straight people are free to donate under the current rules, while gay people in monogamous relationships are banned.

Amid calls to move to a risk-based system as operated in other countries, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison today confirmed that a review of the policy will take place.

She told Parliament: “Making sure that the blood supply is safe is an absolute priority.

“Donor deferral for men who have sex with men was changed from lifetime to 12 months in 2011, but four years later it is time to look again at the question.

“Public Health England has just undertaken an anonymous survey of donors, and I am pleased to say that SaBTO—the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs—will review the issue in 2016.”

When challenged by Mr Fabricant on the issue, she added: “I can confirm that the Public Health England survey has been undertaken and is currently being analysed.

“It is important to put it on the record that the blood service does not discriminate on sexual orientation: lesbians are free to give blood and their blood donations are much appreciated.

“The deferral period is based on sexual activity and it applies to a number of groups other than men who have sex with men.

“As I say, SaBTO will review the issue in the light of the PHE survey.”

A Stonewall spokesperson said: “We’re delighted the Department of Health Minister Jane Ellison has announced this review.

“We want a donation system that is fair and based on up-to-date medical evidence.

“Currently gay and bi people cannot give blood if they have had sex in the past 12 months, regardless of whether they used protection.

“Yet straight people who may have had unprotected sex can donate. These current rules are clearly unfair and we want to see people asked similar questions – irrespective of their sexual orientation – to accurately assess the risk of infection.

“Screening all donors by sexual behaviour rather than by sexual orientation would increase blood stocks in times of shortage and create a safer supply by giving a more accurate, non-discriminatory assessment.”
Government to ‘review’ blood ban for gay and bisexual men
Shaun Griffin of the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “We welcome today’s news. The 2011 review that the one year ban was based on is now out of date, and the rules need reviewing to fit the facts today.

“The review announced today, as well as considering the latest available data, should also address the contradictions attached to the lifetime ban on former sex workers and past intravenous drug users, which were not addressed in 2011.

“The safety of the blood supply must come first – but the one year ban, and the information the decision was based on is out of touch with the reality of conditions like hep C and HIV in 2015.”