Government relaxes rules on gay blood donations

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The government is relaxing rules that ban men who have sex with men from giving blood, it has been announced.

At current, blood donation rules across the UK ban men who have sex with men from giving blood if they have been sexually active in the past 12 months.

The blanket deferral period for gay men, which was intended to help prevent HIV contamination of blood supplies, has come under increasing scrutiny for failing to reflect modern screening capabilities.

Changes announced today will drastically shorten the deferral period to three months – meaning gay men will only be required to abstain from anal or oral sex for 12 weeks before being able to give blood.

The government says the changes, which were recommended by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) , are “based on the most up to date scientific evidence and medical advances, which will offer more people the opportunity to donate blood without affecting the safety of the blood supply”.

The changes will be implemented from early 2018.

Until as recently as 2016 in some regions of the UK, men who had gay sex were banned for life from giving blood, under rules introduced at the height of the AIDS crisis.

The news has been welcomed by LGBT campaigners, though Stonewall has urged the government to use it as a “stepping stone” to a system based on individual risk factors, rather than a blanket deferral for all gay men.

The reforms was announced as part of a slate of changes today that also include a consultation on changes to gender recognition rules for transgender people.

Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Greening said: “This government is committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality and today we’re taking the next step forward.

“We will build on the significant progress we have made over the past 50 years, tackling some of the historic prejudices that still persist in our laws and giving LGBT people a real say on the issues affecting them.”

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall said: “We’re pleased the Government recognises there is still more to be done to ensure all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are accepted without exception, and welcome the announcement of new measures to tackle some of the remaining inequalities

“Change to the blood donation rules are welcome. However, while this is an important move, it’s vital that this is a stepping stone to a system that doesn’t automatically exclude most gay and bi men.

“We would like to see individualised risk assessment, and are encouraged that the Government and NHS Blood and Transplant Service are committed to exploring how to do this. And we welcome the Government’s intention to better understand the inequalities LGBT people face in Britain to identify key areas for future action, and to ensure that this Government maintains the UK’s impressive record as a world leader on LGBT equality.”

Ethan Spibey, Founder, FreedomToDonate said: “Today’s announcement from the Government marks a world-leading blood donation policy for gay and bisexual men and the other groups previously restricted.

“I’m so proud that the work of FreedomToDonate and our supporters will help ensure more people than ever before are allowed to safely donate blood.

“I began this campaign because I wanted to repay the donor who saved my granddad’s life after a major operation and this announcement means I’m closer than ever to doing that, with the invaluable help of our team of volunteers, and the charities and organisations FreedomToDonate represents.”