12-month deferral rule will be reduced to just 12 weeks, possibly later this year
Rules on the donation of blood products by gay and bisexual men will be updated “at the earliest opportunity” it’s been announced by The Scottish Government.
The move comes after the UK Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) recommended that the changes be made to take account of the latest available medical and scientific evidence about the risk of acquiring infections, such as HIV.
Men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) were previously banned outright from donating blood, until a change in 2011 introduced a 12-month deferral period, which many claimed was unrealistic and effectively maintained the ban on gay and bisexual men, many of whom did not present a risk to blood supplies.
The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service will now work towards individualised risk assessments, a move which campaigners have welcomed.
Stewart McDonald, SNP MP for Glasgow South, is Co-Chair of the Westminster All-Party
Parliamentary Group on Blood Donation and led an inquiry into blood donation rules. Commenting on the changes today, he said:
“I am delighted that SaBTO’s blood donation recommendations will be implemented in Scotland at the earliest opportunity.”
“These changes will offer more people than ever before the opportunity to donate blood – helping to save lives by increasing vital blood stock, without affecting the world-leading safety of Scotland’s blood supply.”
“Many gay and bisexual men have felt that blood donation rules were outdated and wrongly prevented them from donating – so it is a welcome step forward that the current 12 month deferral period will be significantly reduced to just 3 months.”
Scott Cuthbertson, of LGBTI charity Equality Network, welcomed the changes but warned that discrimination still exists despite the new policy:
“We remain concerned that many low risk gay and bisexual men, for example those in monogamous relationships, will still not be allowed to donate under this new policy. I’m pleased to have been asked by SNBTS to be a member of a new sub-group which will look at how an individual risk assessment could be made a reality.”
There’s been significant pressure mounting on SaBTO and politicians to bring in changes to blood donation rules, including from the SNP membership, which have twice called for blood donation rules to be changed. Motions were unanimously agreed at the party’s conferences in 2011 and again in 2016. Linda Fabiani MSP also wrote to then-Health Secretary, Alex Neil, in 2013 to encourage him to ask SaBTO to review the policy. There has also been significant support across politics for this change, with the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems in Scotland all supporting changes to blood donation rules for MSM.
The changes could be implemented in Scotland as soon as November this year.