Officials in Canada say men who have not had sex with other men within the last five years will be allowed to donate blood as part of new guidelines.

“We recognise that many people will feel that this change does not go far enough, but given the history of the blood system in Canada, we see this as a first and prudent step forward on this policy,” said Dr Dana Devine, who is vice-president of medical, scientific and research affairs at Canadian Blood Services.

“It’s the right thing to do and we are committed to regular review of this policy as additional data emerge and new technologies are implemented.”

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood.

They can donate – providing they refrain from having sex with men for 12 months.

Although all blood is tested for HIV and other diseases, there is a period of time in which new infections cannot be detected.

The one-year deferral was chosen in part because of Hepatitis B, which disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men.

While there is a four-week window between transmission and detection of HIV, Hepatitis B can take up to a year to be cleared by the body.

A blanket ban remains in place in Northern Ireland.

In South Africa the deferral period is six months.