Blood donor rules still discriminate against gay men


Sophie Bridger welcomes a relaxation of blood donation rules but argues gay men deserve to be treated the same way as straight men

TFN Guest's photo

5th December 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Last week, new changes to blood donor rules came into place. Following years of campaigning by many organisations and activists, including Freedom to Donate, gay and bi men are now able to give blood after a reduced deferral period of three months (previously blood donation was banned for those sexually active in the past 12 months). This brings Scotland in line with blood donation rules in England and Wales, both changed after recommendations from the advisory committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

It’s a significant step forward from the previous policy. From 2011 until now, any man who had been sexually active with other men in the last year was prevented from donating blood.It was an approach that automatically prevented the majority of gay and bi men from donating, and may have deterred many more who were eligible.

It’s important to remember, though, that most gay and bi men will still not be able to donate. These new rules are still based on assumptions about a broad group, rather than people’s individual behaviours. It treats gay and bi men in lifelong relationships as being a greater risk than straight men in similar relationships, regardless of the personal risks any individual takes. 

Sophie Bridger

Sophie Bridger

Like many others, we want to see a blood donation system which allows as many people as possible to donate safely and regularly. That’s why we’ll continue to campaign for a donation system based on an individualised risk assessment, rather than a crude system that excludes whole groups of people from donation.

Individual assessment of donors isn’t just fairer, it allows more people to donate, increasing the blood supply. The UK wouldn’t be the first country to adopt this approach, Spain has a deferral period of at least six months after a change of partner for everyone – heterosexual people or men having sex with men.

A reliable, safe blood stock saves lives. The current rules prevent healthy, motivated people from doing something amazing and giving a donation, and so puts the availability of that stock at risk. While these changes are an improvement, they fall short of the critical changes that our blood donation system needs.

We and other campaigners will keep calling for a system based on individual risk assessment, that is not just fairer, but paves the way for a safer, more reliable blood stock.