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Blood ban on gay men to be reviewed

Jessica Geen March 12, 2009
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A review of blood donation policy in the UK will be carried out following the publication of new research.

The latest review, in January 2007, recommended that the policy of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood should be continued.

The new research will be carried out by the independent Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, which advises the government on issues of blood safety.

It will include data on the frequency of of infections found by the National Blood Service when testing blood donations and collecting information as to how donors probably became infected.

Studies will also be used to determine which groups are most likely to have sexually-transmitted infections which might infect patients receiving blood and the sexual behaviour of blood donors.

Another arm of the research will review current policies of blood services around the world on the exclusion or deferral of gay and bisexual men from blood donation.

The majority of the research will be presented to to Advisory Committee this summer.

Lorna Williamson, medical director of NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We welcome this independent review following presentation of the new research. As demonstrated by the recent removal of the upper age limit for regular blood donors, we adapt our donor guidelines when it is safe to do so.

“Patients quite rightly expect the highest standards of blood safety. The current criteria for exclusion or deferral from blood donation are in place for the sole purpose of protecting public health by minimising the risk of transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases via the blood supply. The only grounds on which anyone is asked not to give blood are to safeguard their own safety or to prevent potential harm to patients.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust has welcomed the review.

Lisa Power, head of policy at the organisation, said: “THT has been supporting work towards this review for some time. The regulations need to be based on the best possible evidence and different restrictions for different population groups need to be made understandable to the public.

“We are asking people to abide by the current restrictions until any further decision has been made. It’s important that people are reassured that all the evidence has been examined and that any restrictions are made on the basis of evidence and not wishful thinking or political pressure.”

Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns at the National AIDS Trust, commented: “NAT were the first to call for a comprehensive review of the lifelong bans and we are pleased that the National Blood Service has acted swiftly to meet our concerns”.

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