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The UK could abolish its archaic ban on queer men donating blood as soon as this year

Lily Wakefield May 29, 2020
Blood donation ban UK

Gay and bisexual men still face outdated restrictions on blood donation. (Pexels)

The UK ban on sexually active queer men giving blood could be lifted after the release of a report in late 2020.

The FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group was set up by the NHS at the beginning of last year at the request of the Department of Health and Social Care.

According to the NHS, the group includes “representatives from the four UK blood services, LGBT+ groups, medical and scientific experts, and patient and donor representatives”, and has been tasked with evaluating the UK’s archaic rules around sexually active queer men giving blood.

It was announced on Friday (May 29) that despite the coronavirus pandemic, FAIR is still planning to produce a report of its findings by the end of 2020.

UK’s gay blood ban could be replaced with individual risk assessments.

The UK Department of Health guidelines on blood donation currently state that men who have sex with men are ineligible to donate blood unless they remain celibate for three months.

The FAIR report will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to change blood donation rules to “use of a more individualised assessment of risk”, rather than this blanket blood donation ban for queer men.

Debbie Laycock, head of policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, is one member of the steering group.

She said: “We are pleased that the important work of this group is progressing and that its recommendations will be released this year.

“We have long campaigned for a blood donation system that better reflects the realities of sexually transmitted infections.

“That’s why we welcomed the reduction in the deferral period to three months for those who are gay and bisexual men, and we will continue to support this work around exploring an individual risk assessment.”

People want to be considered as individuals.

Dr Su Brailsford, the chair of FAIR, said: “We need to understand which questions are most relevant to assessing risk and whether there are some questions which might put people off donating.

“This work takes time and we need to make sure everything we do is based on good evidence with patient safety as the number one priority.

“We appreciate that any deferral is disappointing if you want to save lives by giving blood and recognise that people want to be considered as individuals as much as possible.

“We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to donate whilst continuing to ensure the safety of both the blood supply and those patients who receive blood.”

Rules on blood donations relaxed internationally amid global shortages.

Various countries across the world introduced bans on gay and bisexual men donating blood at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.

In recent years, many countries have amended their bans, but most still require gay and bisexual men to practice celibacy.

The UK Department of Health guidelines on blood donation currently state that men who have sex with men are ineligible to donate blood unless they remain celibate for three months.

During the coronavirus crisis, some countries facing blood shortages have lifted their blood donation bans for queer men, including Brazil which did away with the period of celibacy entirely. 

A recent study showed that there had been zero increase in HIV infections from donated blood in the United States after the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual male donors was lifted.

More: bisexual, blood donation ban, FAIR, Gay, Government, men who have sex with men, MSM, queer men, steering group, Stonewall, Terrence Higgins Trust, UK

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