Tory MP hits out at timings of ‘long overdue’ review of 12-month gay blood ban

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A Tory MP has hit out at the length of time a review of the 12-month deferral period for gay men to donate blood in the UK.

MP for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, asked the question to Health Minister Jane Ellison on what progress has been made on efforts to change the way men who have sex with men donate blood.

Today Ms Ellison today confirmed that a review into blood donations will take place in 2016, based on guidance issued from SabTO for all of the UK administrations.

Currently MSM have to abstain from sex for a 12-month deferral period before they are able to donate blood.

Mr Fabricant asked Ms Ellison to comment on the Freedom to Donate campaign, which hopes to remove, or reduce, the deferral period.

In a Parliamentary question, Mr Fabricant said: “What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the Freedom to Donate campaign; and if she will make a statement.”

Ms Ellison responded: “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.”

Michael Fabricant then said “the safety of blood is of course paramount”, but said there were issues “disturbing” him about the process.

He said: “Someone from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs saying that the word of gay people was somehow less valuable than the word of straight people-that was disgraceful.

Adding: “Secondly, the Minister promised me that survey work would be available at the time of the general election, but when I put down a written question about it, she said that, in fact, such survey work was not being done-although she now says it is. I felt that she misled me at the time. Can she say more about how we are finally going to achieve equality in this matter? Many clinicians feel it is long overdue.”

To which Ms Ellison responded: “My honourable Friend and I did have a meeting, and I can confirm that the Public Health England survey has been undertaken and is currently being analysed. I do not recall that an official made that point. 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. I am always happy to discuss this with my honourable friend.”

Speaking to PinkNews, Mr Fabricant, who has been a long-time campaigner on the issue of blood donation, said: “This issue has been dragging on long enough.  Most clinicians say that with more modern forms of blood testing, the 12 month ‘no-sex ban’ could be immediately reduced to 6 months and this should now happen without further prevarication.

“And with same sex marriage now being a reality, the present arrangements whereby a promiscuous straight man can donate blood, but a guy in a monogamous gay relationship cannot, is preposterous and makes no clinical sense.

“I do remember the homophobic remark being made even if it wasn’t intended to be offensive.  But frankly it was.

“I am glad that the Public Health England survey is now going ahead albeit 18 months later than I was promised at my meeting with the minister at the Department of Health.  If the survey reveals that infection rates of HIV and Hepatitis in gay monogamous relationships is no more than in those in straight relationships, the discriminatory ban on gay men giving blood should be lifted immediately and without any further prevarication.”

Mr Fabricant earlier this year renewed his call for the Government to lift a ban on gay and bi men giving blood if they have had sex with a man in the previous twelve months.

The MP for Lichfield, made the call as it was announced that the number of people donating blood had fallen 40% in a decade. 

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.

He introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year calling 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.