Andy Burnham has called for a review of the ban on sexually active gay men from donating blood to the NHS, declaring ‘sexuality shouldn’t be the issue’.
The Shadow Health Secretary told The Huffington Post UK that he was supporting a ‘Freedom To Donate’ campaign to look again at the current rules.
Under restrictions put in place during the 1980s, gay men in the UK are not allowed to donate blood if they have had sexual contact with another man for at least a year.
But Stonewall and others have argued that the rules are discriminatory because heterosexuals can still donate blood even if they have unprotected sex.
Campaigners also point out the blanket ban undermines efforts to get badly-needed blood supplies for the NHS, which has seen a drop of 40% in donations over the past decade.
Mr Burnham said that he backed the idea of a review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs into the current regulations.
“I think sexuality really shouldn’t be the issue. The issue is behaviour,” he said.
“Whatever your sexuality, heterosexual, bisexual, gay, if you are living a lifestyle that is risky then that is the issue for me, not the issue about sexuality. If you are in a very stable relationship, where’s the issue? That is where I think the system has got a kind of old fashioned take on it.”
He added that it would be upto the medical experts to weigh up the practicalities of lifting the ban but in principle he backed the review.
“Obviously you’ve got to do it with expert evidence behind it and of course that has got to be taken into account,” he said.
In a wide-ranging interview on his plans for the Labour leadership, Mr Burnham said he was proud of the role he played in recent years in promoting gay rights.
“I was the first Labour frontbencher to call for equal marriage. Gordon [Brown] had kind of ruled it out, we’d ruled it out as a government.”
The Leigh MP is the latest politician to back the cross-party ‘Freedom to Donate’ campaign, which also has Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Tory MPs Michael Fabricant, Stuart Andrew and Green party MP Caroline Lucas behind it.
Mr Fabricant was told this year by Health Minister Jane Ellison that there was no research into the incidence of HIV and Hepatitus B among gay men in same-sex marriages or civil partnerships.
Very disappointed that in a Parliamentary Written Answer, Minister of Public Health reveals no research undertaken into gay blood ban.— Michael Fabricant (@Mike_Fabricant) June 17, 2015
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, which allows men who have not had sexual contact with another man in 12 months to donate.
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."
The ‘Freedom to Donate’ campaign was started by 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.
He has 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."
Stuart Andrew, Tory MP for Pudsey, Horsforth & Aireborough, told HuffPostUK earlier this year: “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.”
The National AIDS Trust, LGBT Foundation, Kaleidoscope, the Charity Brook and gay men’s health charity GMFA also support the campaign, which has a Change.org petition behind it.
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."