UK

'Freedom To Donate' Campaign Calls For Lifting Of 'Draconian' Restrictions On Gay Men Giving Blood

28/07/2015 03:58 BST | Updated 28/07/2015 09:59 BST

The government's "draconian" restrictions on gay men donating blood must be reviewed, according to a campaign backed by MPs, national charities and Stonewall that launches on Tuesday.

The 'Freedom to Donate' campaign, supported by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and the Green Party's Caroline Lucas as well as MPs from across the political spectrum, demands the government reconsider rules put in place in the 1980s, which they say discriminate against gay men who can safely give blood.

Gay men in the UK are not allowed to donate blood unless they have had no sexual contact with another man in the last year. 'Freedom to Donate' is also calling for a review of the blanket ban on anyone who has ever had sex for money or drugs, or injected drugs, from donating at any point in their life.

All of these groups are able to give blood safely, the campaign argues.

blood donor

Gay men should be allowed to give blood, the campaign said

Freedom to Donate has launched a petition calling for a review of the restrictions, saying they prevent access to vitally need blood supplies.

One-in-four Britons will rely on donated blood at some point in their lives, and the UK has seen a 40 percent drop in blood donations over the last 10 years.

Twelve MPs support the petition, including Lucas, who called the rules "draconian", while Tory MP Stuart Andrew said he found it "objectionable" that he cannot freely donate blood.

Doctor Ranj Singh, an NHS doctor who supports the campaign, said: "Medicine has come a long way in the last five years, particularly in terms of our ability to diagnose and treat an manage HIV and other blood-born viruses. We are in a different place to where we were five years ago, and because of that, we can probably start to bring donation processes in line with them."

Gay men were banned entirely from giving blood until 2011, under rules introduced in the 1980s to prevent the spread of HIV. A "deferred" system is now in place, after a review in 2011, allowing men who have not had sexual contact with another man in 12 months to donate.

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Andrew, the Conservative MP for Pudsey, Horsforth & Aireborough, said: "If it hadn’t been for people giving blood, my mother wouldn’t be here today, so I find it objectionable that I can’t do the same. I can’t think of anything else in my everyday life where I am restricted in doing something because of my sexuality.”

stuart andrew mp

Andrew: "I find it objectionable"

The campaign is asking for the government’s advisory committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs to review the restrictions.

Another MPs backing the campaign is Michael Fabricant, who has previously called the rules "outdated, illogical and unequal".

Lucas said: “I will continue to campaign for the government to end this draconian policy. The current rules are still discriminatory and are not backed by the scientific evidence which supports a six month window before donating blood after a possible risk.”

Ethan Spibey, who tried to donate blood for the first time only to find that he was unable to as a sexually active gay man, started the Freedom To Donate campaign.

He described, "That feeling in your stomach when you realise you can't. It's shame, you feel shame and guilt, and I just though I have to do something about it."

Spibey added: "My view on the current regulations is that it could be preventing thousands from donating blood and saving lives. At a time when one in four of us will rely on donated blood at some point in our lives, it's imperative we look again at who can donate."

In a blog earlier this year on HuffPost UK, celebrity editor Matt Bagwell argued: "I think we've all moved past the idea that HIV is a 'gay plague'. Newsflash: sexually active heterosexuals can also contract HIV and all manner of other STIs.

"But funnily enough, there is no blanket ban on my straight friends and family (many of whom are way more promiscuous than my gay circle) from donating, which, quite honestly, makes me feel like I'm a lesser citizen."

The National AIDS Trust, LGBT Foundation, Kaleidoscope, the Charity Brook and gay men’s health charity GMFA also support the campaign.