Government set to overhaul blood donation rules for men who have sex with men

The rules around men who have sex with men donating blood are set to be overhauled.

An advisory committee is understood to have decided that the current deferral period should be shortened.

Currently, men cannot give blood within 12 months of having sex with another man.

Rihanna and Prince Harry give blood

That rule now looks set to be reduced to a three-month deferral period under new proposals from experts.

The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) is expected to recommend the new set of rules when it gives evidence to the Department of Health in July.

Though there could be a different government in place by the time the advisory committee meets, the major parties have stood by accepting the recommendations of SaBTO on the issue.

One member of the advisory committee, Dr Moira Carter, who sits on the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, said: “The deferral period is going to shorten considerably and [by] more than I thought.

“It’s very frustrating for gay men who are monogamous, even in long-term relationships, who are married and have children, to not be able to give blood.

“What is not acceptable is to make the deferral period longer than the risk period and to do so would be discriminatory.”

Men who have sex with men were banned from donating blood in the UK in 1985, at the height of the HIV AIDS crisis.

Public Health England statistics estimate that 3,320 of the 6,095 people who were newly infected with HIV in 2015 were gay or bisexual.

Meanwhile 2,360 men and women “probably” contracted HIV via heterosexual activity, which activists argue indicates that high-risk and promiscuous sex aggravates infection levels, rather than sexual orientation.

Ethan Spibey, who founded campaign group Freedom to Donate, told The Independent: “There is a consensus that there will be a drastic reduction and it’s fantastic to hear that.

“Three months would be a world-leading policy. Eventually we want a blood donation policy that is fair and tailored to each donor, but it’s all about moving towards that model.

“Although we get that heterosexual people are statistically less likely to contract a blood infection, we can’t say every gay man is a high-risk individual.

“We need a policy that recognises what is high risk without applying it to entire homogeneous groups.

“In all credit to the Government, they have realised this is something that needs looking at.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron previously endorsed the Freedom To Donate campaign writing for PinkNews he explained: “The current rules are based on assumptions of fixed, binary sex and gender identities that make no sense now, if they ever did.

“…as well as being offensive – not just to those affected, but actually, to all of us – it’s frankly stupid to lock out millions of people who are willing and able to help.”

Labour politician and shadow minister Cat Smith, who raised questions in the Commons about when the review would be completed, said: “It seems daft to refuse blood from people where there is no medical evidence to show they are any more high risk.

“It also seems particularly ridiculous to still have a 12-month deferral period given the screening techniques that we have.”

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