The United Kingdom’s National Health Scheme has announced a historic policy change which will, from next summer allow men who have sex with other men to donate blood more easily.

Under the changes, men who have sex with men and are in monogamous long-term relationships or have been with their sexual partner for more than three months, will be able to donate blood. Currently, men who have sex with men must abstain from sex for three months in order to give blood.

In 2011 the lifetime ban imposed on gay men from donating blood was reduced to a one-year abstinence from sex requirement.

However, those on PrEP who have had more than one sexual partner or a new sexual partner within the previous three months and those who engage with recreational drug use, such as chem sex, will still be prevented from donating.

Here in Australia, an easing of restriction was announced by Lifeblood donation services in October. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved Lifeblood’s proposal to lower the celibacy period from twelve to three months since last sexual contact for men who have sex with other men.

It is unclear if UK will apply the rules with the same level of scrutiny to heterosexual blood donors, or if the NHS refuses to accept that these behaviours are as likely to be present in the boarder community, opposed to just that of gay men.

 Either way, what this step forward means, is that blood donors will now be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and not subjected to a blanket policy that has been long called out for being an outdated and discriminatory approach which harkens back to the AIDS epidemic.

While some questions still remain, many have been quick to praise what has been called a “landmark” decision by the NHS, including the founder of FreedomToDonate, Ethan Spibey.

“Almost six years ago, our group of volunteers set out to rewrite the rules that had perpetuated inequality and prevented thousands of potentially safe donors from donating for too long.

Today, we welcome a pioneering new policy and are immensely proud that more people than ever will be able to fairly give the life-saving gift of blood.”

The news also comes at a time when the NHS had earlier this year, announced that the “need for young men to start donating blood is vital due to a serious gender imbalance in new donors.”

 Yet, given the rapid improvements in HIV testing in recent years and that some of the restrictions still in place only apply to certain sections of the population, many still believe that a move to a three-month period between sexual activity and being able to legally donate blood is not enough.

This point was one driven home by medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, Dr Michael Brady, who welcomed the move. “The UK is leading the way in ensuring that blood donation is more inclusive and now will allow many more gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men to donate blood,” said Brady.

Though Brady went on to add that there was “certainly more work to do” and that the Terrence Higgins Trust alongside other organisations must “continue to work to ensure that our [UK’s] blood donation service is inclusive, and evidence based.”

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