Stonewall today welcomed the Department of Health’s decision to end the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood as a ‘step in the right direction’. However, the charity expressed concern that gay men engaged in low-risk sexual activity are still to be excluded from giving blood while heterosexuals engaged in higher risk activity will not.
‘Safety must remain paramount. However at a time of national shortages in blood, everyone who can give blood at no risk to recipients should be able to donate,’ said Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill. ‘To retain a blanket ban on any man who has had sex with another man in the last year, even if he has only had oral sex, remains disproportionate on the basis of available evidence.’
‘All those who donate blood should be asked about their sexual behaviour and assessed appropriately. However under the new rules, a gay man in a monogamous relationship who has only had oral sex will still automatically be unable to give blood but a heterosexual man who has had multiple partners and not worn a condom will not be questioned about his behaviour, or even then, excluded.’
In countries such as Italy and Spain, the automatic ban on gay men giving blood has already been lifted. The Antony Nolan Trust lifted its blanket exclusion on gay men donating bone marrow in 2008.
‘We recognise this move as a step in the right direction,’ said Ben Summerskill, ‘and we welcome undertakings from the National Blood Service that they will in future treat gay people with greater courtesy than they’ve often done in the past. We also welcome the fact that those HIV charities which doggedly supported the ban until recently have revised their position. However, Stonewall will continue to push for a donation system based on the real risks a potential donor poses. People wanting to donate blood should be asked similar questions – irrespective of their sexual orientation – that accurately assess their level of risk of infection. Sadly, the proposed new system will still fail to do this.’