Ben Hayward December 14th

The rules surrounding blood donation for gay and bisexual men are to be relaxed across the UK, in what the government calls a ‘landmark change’.

The new criteria are to shift focus onto individual behaviours, removing a blanket ban that has been in place for any men who have had sex with men in the last three months and meaning that men who are in long-term relationships will now be able to donate blood at any time.

To be implemented by summer 2021, the new rules will allow blood donors who have had one sexual partner and who have been with their sexual partner for more than three months, to donate regardless of their gender, the gender of their partner, or the type of sex they have, reports The BBC.

Previously, all men who have sex with men had to abstain from sex for three months in order to donate. But now, if donors have had more than one sexual partner or a new partner in the last three months, they can donate as long as they have not had anal sex - which remains one of the sexual behaviours that carries the most risk of a sexually transmitted infection.

The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs - which advises UK health departments - has recommended the changes, acknowledging that ‘all donors’ have potential to carry infections, including heterosexual men and women.

In a newly published report, The For the Assessment of Individualised Risk (Fair) group has proposed a move away from blanket bans to identifying a wider range of ‘high risk behaviours’ which apply to all blood donors, regardless of their sexuality.

Su Brailsford, associate medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant said: “Patients rely on the generosity and altruism of donors for their life-saving blood. I'm pleased to have concluded that these new changes to donor selection will keep blood just as safe."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the ‘positive step’ recognises individuals for the actions they take ‘rather than their sexual preference’ and that the ‘landmark change’ will allow many more people, who have previously been excluded to take the opportunity to help save lives’.

Other campaigners have also welcomed the relaxation of rules, with Ethan Spibey, founder of FreedomToDonate that has been campaigning on the issue for six years saying they ‘warmly welcome’ the announcement.

Mr Spibey said: “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 Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "There is certainly more work to do and 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."

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