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The exclusion of gay couples from donating blood is finally over

The exclusion of gay couples from donating blood is finally over

Many of my constituents will not have been able to donate [plasma] because they are gay or bisexual men and the rules for donating blood plasma mirrored those for donating blood, writes Dehenna Davison MP. | PA Images

4 min read

The UK has taken another world-leading step by adopting an individualised risk-based approach to determine who can donate blood, not only creating a safer system but one that does not risk feeding into damaging stigma.

Yesterday the government made the landmark announcement that it will change the criteria which governs who can donate blood, meaning that more gay and bisexual men will be able to donate.

It follows a fantastic campaign by FreedomtoDonate and others, who have for many years made the argument that it should be each donor’s individual level of risk that is taken into account, not who they are or who they love.

Once the changes are implemented next year all donors, regardless of gender or sexuality, who have had the same sexual partner in the last three months will be eligible to donate.

The UK already has one of the most forward-thinking track records when it comes to reform of the blood donation system. Prior to 2011, gay and bisexual men lived under a lifetime ban on all blood donation. This was replaced with a 12-month deferral period, that was reduced to a world-leading three months in 2017.

And where the UK has made progress, others followed. Deferral periods have since been reduced in other countries across the world. The UK has again taken another world-leading step by becoming one of the first countries to adopt an individualised risk-based approach.       

I have been so pleased to support this campaign ever since I became an MP a year ago. In June this year I joined #FreedomtoDonate and a cross-party group of parliamentarians in a joint letter calling for individualised risk assessments to replace the existing blanket rule.

In making this reform we have shown once again that the UK is a leading light for allowing people to love who they want to love free from stigma

Stringent measures are rightly needed to protect the blood supply and this announcement has not only created a safer system but one that also does not risk feeding into damaging stigma.

These proposals are based in pragmatism as much as they are in fairness. At the beginning of the year, the target for new male blood donors was increased by 26% to combat a persistent shortfall in donations. This is concerning because some treatments can only use male donations because of its particular blood chemistry.

I congratulate the members of the FAIR Steering Group, which brought together representatives from the blood services, campaign groups and medical experts, for their thorough review of this approach. It will allow thousands more people to donate and to save lives.

In recent weeks NHS blood plasma donation centres have been opening up across the country as part of the world’s largest randomised Covid-19 plasma trial. It follows an urgent NHS appeal for people who have had Covid to come forward and to donate plasma.

I know many will answer this call – indeed a pop-up donation centre will be opening in Stockton on Tees, only 30 minutes away from my own constituency. Sadly, many of my constituents will not have been able to donate because they are gay or bisexual men and the rules for donating blood plasma mirrored those for donating blood. But this announcement should mean that in the future many more people will no longer be prevented from playing their part.

Next year, it will have been 40 years since the onset of the AIDS pandemic, a period marked by fear and the devastation of a community. It was amidst this fear that donor restrictions like these were introduced all over the world. But our knowledge and understanding has moved on dramatically, and we have rightly acknowledged that our rules must now move on too.

The UK has already made so much progress, but in making this reform we have shown once again that the UK is a leading light for allowing people to love who they want to love free from stigma.

 

Dehenna Davison is the Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland.

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