The British government is to lift the ban on gay men giving blood, ruling that a blanket ban is discriminatory and could be in breach of the Equality Act.

However, lifting the ban will only apply to gay men who have not had sex for ten years prior to donating blood.

The Sunday Times reports that the change in the ban will be announced by Anne Milton, the public health minister, shortly.

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.

Campaigners have long pointed out that many gay men are in monogamous relationships, practice safe sex or are celibate.

Around 86,500 people in the UK have HIV. According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, 42 per cent are gay men and 54 per cent are heterosexuals, the majority of whom are from Africa.

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.”

Gay men are prevented from donating blood in a number of countries. In New Zealand, they can donate so long as they have not had gay sex for ten years. South Africa allows gay men to donate blood with a five year deferral

SABTO also examined whether there should be a lifetime ban on heterosexuals who have had sex with someone who has had sex with anyone from a part of the world where HIV is widespread. It also examined whether the supply of blood for patients of Afro-Carribean origin should be considered.