The ban on gay men giving blood has been lifted in Britain.

The Telegraph reports the ban on gay men donating blood is being lifted because it was decided that the rule could be discriminatory and might breach equality legislation.

However, gay men will only be permitted to donate if they have not had sexual intercourse for a decade. Homosexuals who are or have recently been sexually active will continue to be barred from giving blood.

Public Health Minister Anne Milton is expected to announce the changes within weeks and she is understood to be backed by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone.

Donated blood is screened for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, but a tiny number of infections are missed because there can be a time lag before they show themselves.

The current system is based on trust. There are no checks to ensure donors are telling the truth about their sexuality and around seven per cent of sexually active gay men are thought to give blood despite the ban.

The changes were instigated by Sabto, the advisory committee on the safety of blood, tissues and organs, which had concluded that if the ban were replaced by a new rule preventing gay men from giving blood for five years after having sex with another man, the risk of HIV reaching the blood supply would go up by less than five per cent.

It is estimated that this figure would halve if the “deferral” period were increased to 10 years, so ministers backed this option.

The 10-year delay also ensures that people who are not aware they have contracted HIV do not pass it on accidentally.

There are estimated to be 86,500 people with HIV in Britain, with a quarter unaware that they have an infection. About 42% of people infected with HIV in 2009 were homosexual men, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV charity.

Homosexual men are also at risk of passing on other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis.

Gay rights campaigners have pushed for the ban to be lifted, saying many homosexual men are in long-term monogamous relationships, practise safe sex or have been celibate for years.

A Government source said: “A complete ban is unfair and discriminatory but we need to protect public health, so the 10-year rule is what is being considered.”

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