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UK’s Blanket Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood May be Amended

UK’s Blanket Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood May be Amended

Reports suggest the United Kingdom’s current policy banning gay men from donating blood is to be amended so that gay men who have not had same-gender sex for a decade can now legally donate.

Ministers are said to be contemplating changing the policy based on legal advice that a blanket ban is likely unlawful under Britain’s equality laws. 

But why specifically a ten year period?

From Pink News:

While donated blood is screened for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, a small number of infected donations are missed due to the time between infection with HIV and it being detected in blood tests.

The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) found that a ban on gay men from giving blood if they had not had sex with another man for five years would increase the risk of blood supplies being contaminated by five per cent. Ministers were told that this risk would halve for men who had not had gay sex for ten years.

It is estimated that seven per cent of sexually active gay men donate blood despite the current ban.


A government source told the newspaper: “A complete ban is unfair and discriminatory but we need to protect public health, so the ten-year rule is what is being considered.”

While many will welcome this progress, campaigners point out that there are many same-sex couples in committed monogamous relationships as well as individuals who practice safe-sex that the ban will still prevent them from legally donating blood. Those that say the ban is based on homophobia rather than actual facts are therefore unlikely to change their opinion even with news of the amended policy.

However, a review of the policy is ongoing and HIV groups said Monday that they were surprised to hear that the government might act without the review’s conclusions which are due in June.

A statement from SaBTO, which is carrying out the review, reads (via Pink News): “SaBTO is currently reviewing the evidence base for donor exclusion and deferral in the UK, including criteria which relate to sexual behaviour.

“Once the review is complete, SaBTO will make recommendations to the government as to whether any changes to the current policy are warranted. A recommendation is expected in summer 2011.”

At the time of writing the Department of Health has not issued a comment.

It is estimated that, as of the end of 2009, 86,500 people in the UK have HIV, a quarter of whom are believed to be unaware of the infection. There were 6,630 new diagnoses of HIV reported in the UK in 2009.

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Garrett Albright.

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10:35AM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

It bloody (excuse the pun) should be!!!

4:58PM PDT on Apr 13, 2011

Since they screen all the blood anyway (anyone can lie about risky sex and taking drugs after all) they should allow anyone who is healthy enough to donate blood the opportunity to do so.

11:44PM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

Just hoping the ultimate in precaution is taken. People lie. And forget. And some even infect others on purpose. Call it pessimism, but when it comes to a life-threatening or, these days, a health-threatening situation, better to be far, far, far safer than taking a chance and being sorry. This is a case in which inconveniencing the honest and well-meaning supersedes hurt feelings and political correctness. It just has to.

8:14PM PDT on Apr 12, 2011


4:04PM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

And so when the new policy was finally revealed it isn't really a change at all. No surprises there.

1:51PM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

Well said Ali G.
@ Charlotte Perry - while it's great that safety is paramount, anyone who gives blood can lie about their sexual practices if they so wish. Who's to say that all the straight people who give blood haven't been engaging in risky sexual practices, multiply partners, even drug taking, & just lying about it? Proper, thorough screening is needed for ALL blood donations, not just those from gay men.

9:36AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

that`s good, i`m always hearing there`s a shortage of blood.

7:44AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

yes, unfortunately aids is a very real thing and the public need protection, gay men who wish to donate blood need to be very honest about how long ago before donating they had sex, it is not fair to infect innocent children or very ill or injured people who badly need blood to survive it is a noble thing to donate your blood and I really admire anyone who does this, but please make sure your blood is clear and healthy.

6:00AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

I minute we are told that there is a shortage in doners whether it be blood or organs, and then we find out that there is a section of society that wish to donate to help others and are told that they cannot because they are gay. If proper safety and screening process' are in place then the risk of possible infection is negligable (as so much as there is with any other person donating).

5:47AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

I don't know what tests they use in England, but in the US we use tests so sophisticated they can identify infection within a few weeks, at remarkably low viral loads. Back in the 80's, there was no test at all, and the best anyone could do was ban donations by high-risk groups. Just because a protection is obsolete doesn't mean it gets discarded, and this is a trend that can be seen throughout health care.

The worst part is, blood banks are trying hard to grow their male donor base, because men don't get pregnant, and past pregnancy can cause some weird antigen-antibody reactions in blood that can harm patients. Men are also much more likely to be able to perform a double-red cell donation than women, which is a very desirable way of increasing the inventories of rare blood types.

Now is the time to let the UK put their faith in the number-crunchers, and for the rest of the world to see what happens.

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