The Department of Health has announced today that the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men is to be lifted in England, Scotland and Wales. THT’s Chief Executive Sir Nick Partridge said:
“For Terrence Higgins Trust, the safety of the blood supply has always been paramount. As a patient-led, community-based organisation, we stand with other groups supporting those needing blood transfusions, and particularly those needing multiple transfusions, to ensure that their health is secured for the future.
“I understand that patients who need blood transfusions will approach any changes to donor selection criteria with great caution. It is a great reassurance, then, that the UK Thalasaemia Society and the UK Sickle Cell Society were part of the Steering Group and always focused our work on ensuring that the evidence showed that any change to the rules would be safe for patients. For Terrence Higgins Trust, it has never been a question of whether or not restrictions should exist; but rather, whether we have the right ones in place.
“Thirty years on from the devastating, tragic and fatal arrival of HIV and AIDS, there has been a growing sense that the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men was no longer ‘right’. Set against the hundreds of other deferral criteria, this was the one that drew the eye and seemed unfair and unreasonable. The intensive HIV research effort that has transformed the lives of people with HIV has also led to massive improvements in HIV testing, which, combined with the way blood donations are now screened and processed has meant that the lifetime ban can now be safely reduced.
“I welcome the new rule, which is based on evidence of risk now rather than five, ten or twenty five years ago. The 12 month deferral will bring men who have sex with men in line with the year long deferral which applies to other behaviours which have an increased risk of acquiring a blood-borne virus. These rules are necessary, fair, and reasonable.
“Like most gay men, I will still be unable to donate blood under the new rule. But there many are other things I can do to support the blood service – in particular, encouraging my friends, family and colleagues who can give blood to do so. I can also be proud of adhering to the rule, knowing that this will ensure the continuing safety of the blood supply in the UK and the health of all those who rely on it.
“And finally, THT will continue to promote safer sex and work to improve the sexual health of gay men to a point where we are at no greater risk of HIV or poor sexual health than the rest of the population.”