The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service has said that the rise in gay men becoming infected with the HIV virus meant the ban on blood donations from that group was justified.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee, the service claimed that some gay men are giving blood despite the ban and 86% of all new HIV infections occurring last year in Scotland were in gay men.

MSPs are considering a petition from gay rights activists calling on the Scottish Government to review existing guidelines and risk assessment procedures to allow healthy gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

At present any man who has ever had sexual contact with another man, regardless of whether or not condoms were used, is barred from donating blood for life.

In April the committee agreed to seek responses to the issues raised in the petition from the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, Joint United Kingdom Blood Transfusion Services, the Equality Network, Scotland’s national LGBT campaigns group, and others.

The Scottish blood service maintains that it is not a question of being gay or bisexual but the risk involved.

It does not recognise safe sex practices among men who have sex with men (MSM) as safe, despite the rapidly rising HIV infections among heterosexuals.

UK’s National Blood Service (NBS) also bars men who have had sex with other men from donating blood, even if they used a condom.

A statement on their website says: “It is specific behaviours, rather than being gay, which places gay men at increased risk of HIV infection.

“Safer sex will keep most gay men free from infection, however research shows that allowing gay men as a group to donate blood would increase the risk of HIV infected blood entering the blood supply.

“Abolishing the rule for gay men would increase the risk of HIV infected donations entering the blood supply by about five times, and changing the rule to allow gay men to donate one year after they last had sex with another man would increase the risk by 60 per cent.”

According to Section 28 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations “it is not unlawful for a blood service to refuse to accept a donation of a person’s blood where that refusal is determined by an assessment of risk to the public based on – clinical, epidemiological data obtained from a source on which it was reasonable to rely.”

France, Italy and Spain are among EU nations that have removed blanket bans and brought in new rules that focus on risky sexual behaviour.