Gay & bisexual blood donation ban to be relaxed in 2021
“Landmark change” heralded by equality campaigners
Donor health check questionnaire to be amended
Groups take to social media to applaud the move
Campaigners also highlight how full equality has still not been met
Gay & bisexual blood donation ban, that has unfairly discriminated against gay and bisexual men for many years in the UK is finally to be relaxed, it was announced by the UK government on Monday, December 14.
The ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood without first having abstained from sexual activity for a three-month period is to be removed as it discriminates unfairly towards these sections of society in a result that has been heralded by campaigners as a massive stride forward for equality.
The “landmark change” will mean that queer men will be able to give blood at any time from Summer 2021 provided they have been in a long-term monogamous relationship or have been with the same sexual partner for the previous three-month period regardless of the type of sexual activity they engage in.
Alternatively, if the individual has had more than one sexual partner or a new partner in the previous three-month period, they can still give blood provided they have not engaged in anal sex.
The donor health check questionnaire, which has been the source of increased contention among campaign group due to its explicit singling out of individuals with specific sexual orientations, will be amended by NHS Blood and Transport, the arm of the NHS that is responsible for collecting blood donations.
The move has been welcomed across the gay and bisexual community and hailed as “pioneering” by blood equality groups as it demonstrates a more realistic approach to blood donation that takes into account individual’s habits rather than blanked banning those with specific sexual orientations.
Health officials in the UK have also stressed that this move still maintains the safety of the national blood supply and increases the opportunity to refresh withering blood supplies within the NHS by having access to many people who wish to give blood, are safe to give blood, however, until now, have been restricted from doing so.
The associate medical director of NHS Blood and Transport, Su Brailsford, said: “Patients rely on the generosity and altruism of donors for their life-saving blood,”
“We are proud to have the safest blood supply in the world and I’m pleased to have concluded that these new changes to donor selection will keep blood just as safe.”
The founder of equal blood donation pressure group FreedomToDonate, Ethan Spibey, who has been campaigning for six-years for the rules to change, has hailed the move, stating, “We welcome a pioneering new policy and are immensely proud that more people than ever will be able to fairly give the life-saving gift of blood.”
He continued, “Simply being a man who has sex with men is not a good enough reason to exclude someone from donating blood.”
Dr Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, whilst applauding the change noted, “There is certainly more work to do.”
“We will continue to work to ensure that our blood donation service is inclusive, evidence-based and both maximises the numbers who can donate while ensuring our blood supply is safe.”
The change also affects England, Wales and NI.
— Equality Network (@LGBTIScotland) December 14, 2020
UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, has welcomed the move, said that it “recognises individuals for the actions they take, rather than their sexual preference”.
He also took to Twitter to applaud the move, saying, “I’m delighted that today, we end the exclusion of gay couples from giving blood.”
“This progressive policy will further our equality-agenda, & further protect lives.”
I'm delighted that today, we end the exclusion of gay couples from giving blood.
This progressive policy will further our equality-agenda, & further protect lives.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) December 14, 2020
However, some campaigners and LGBT+ community members have also taken to social media to highlight that the new rules, whilst definitely a positive move, are still not representative of full equality.
They highlight that single gay men with multiple sexual partners or those who take part in sexual activities that are considered “high-risk” are still subject to blood donation restriction while their heterosexual counter parts who may also be undertaking “high-risk” behaviour including anal sex and chemsex, are not subject to any restrictions.
One user @MarcWinsland took to Twitter expressing, “This is a step forward. But it’s not equality.”
“Any ban on the basis of sexuality should be lifted completely; until that time, it will be an unfair system which creates its own shortages. Blood donations are all screened anyway. Let’s do better.”
This is a step forward. But it's not equality.
Any ban on the basis of sexuality should be lifted completely; until that time, it will be an unfair system which creates its own shortages. Blood donations are all screened anyway. Let's do better.https://t.co/Lf9MblYDoB
— Marc (@MarcWinsland) December 14, 2020
Another Twitter user, @benvyle who has been undertaking PHD study for the past four years examining the issue of the “gay blood ban” took to twitter to express his views on the announcement in a thread of tweets.
He writes, “new blood donation policy announced in the U.K. today. despite the ostensible “progress” (which no doubt will be how this is reported on again and again today), there is much about the new rules that is concerning.”
“namely, while, as expected, monogamous gay and bi men are to be able to give blood, other practices are being newly and often confusingly labelled “high risk”: PrEP and PEP use, anal sex regardless of gender, and chemsex.”
“as well as drawing the obvious distinction between “good gays” and “bad gays”, i am troubled by the effects of labelling PrEP use “high risk” when PrEP is known to be highly effective in preventing sexual transmission of HIV.”
“further still, the creation of a new class of high-risk category “chemsex” is troubling because of a worrying and highly public conflation between chemsex – which refers to a very very broad range of events and practices – and HIV risk.”
“the point is that securing the donation of monogamous gay and bi men seems a Pyrrhic victory when the effect is the very public demarcation of these other practices to be “high risk” (at odds with the efforts of grassroots and HIV sector actors)”
“this is all not to mention the predictable neglect of sex workers, migrant populations or people who have been sexually active in high-risk countries, and people who have ever injected drugs in the new policy announcements. little to celebrate.”
new blood donation policy announced in the U.K. today. despite the ostensible “progress” (which no doubt will be how this is reported on again and again today), there is much about the new rules that is concerning. pic.twitter.com/L6LPtbKLS6
— ben (@benvyle) December 14, 2020
The three-month long deferral from sexual activity prior to donating bloody among these groups was an extension of the original life-long ban on blood donation for gay and bisexual men that was implemented in the 1980s at the height of the AIDs crisis.
The original lifetime ban was finally relaxed in 2011, based on advice from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, and instead became a one-year deferral on all sexual activity prior to donating blood. This was subsequently relaxed further to a three-month deferral.
Whilst it is clear that this new announcement is a welcome step in the right direction for blood donation and equality, it is also clear that there is still some way to go.
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“Gay & bisexual blood donation ban to be relaxed in historic UK rule change ”
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