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Ban on gay men donating blood lifted

A lifetime ban on gay men donating blood has been lifted - so long as they haven't been sexually active for 12 months, the Department of Health announced today (8 September).

The recommendation to lift the ban came from an evidence-based review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) and has been accepted by health ministers in England, Scotland and Wales.

The change will be implemented by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) on 7 November.

Northern Ireland has not yet accepted SaBTO's recommendations and will need "more time" to decide whether or not to implement the changes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) confirmed in a statement to Nursing In Practice that health ministers in Northern Ireland are "considering whether the lifetime deferral should be changed in line with Great Britain".  

It is hoped that the change will lead to increase in blood donors at a time of shortages across the UK.

The 2000 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) showed approximately 400,000 men aged 16-44 said they had at some point had sex with another man but not in the past year.

Gay men that have engaged in oral or anal sex (with or without a condom) within 12 months are still banned from donating blood.

Human Rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, argues that while the changes are an improvement, the 12-month ban on sexual activity is "still excessive" and "unjustified".

Sir Nick Partridge, Chief Executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), welcomes the new rule and said it would be a "long way off" before a ban on sexually active gay men donating blood would be lifted.

"In the last 30 years, there has been a growing sense that the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men was no longer right," said Partridge.

"Set against the hundreds of other deferral criteria, this is the one that drew the eye and began to seem unfair and unreasonable."

Commenting on the criticism that the rule has not gone far enough, Partridge said we have to face the reality that one in seven men on the London gay scene are living with HIV.

"The prevalence of HIV among gay men is much higher than that of heterosexuals in the UK. This is why there has to be a distinction for gay men and the blood supply," he said.

The news is said to be a "step in the right direction" by Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members.

"Our members felt it was important to look at the risk assessment of individual behaviours, not just those of gay and bisexual men," said Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

"It will therefore be interesting to see if the change has an effect on the number of active blood donors on whom the NHS greatly depends."

Lorna Williamson, a spokesperson for the NHSBT, has reassured patients who may require a transfusion that the blood supply "is and will continue to be as safe as it reasonably can be."

SaBTO research shows the risk of a HIV infectious donation being released into the blood supply is 1 in 4.4m donations. The change in criteria is not expected to significantly affect this figure so long as the number of non-compliant individuals remains unchanged. 

Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs