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Rules that block some gay and bisexual men from donating blood could be eased to allow them to donate to Covid-19 plasma trials, a minister has suggested.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are not automatically prevented from giving blood, but they must have had no sex for three months to be eligible to donate.
Women and equalities minister Liz Truss told the Commons she would ask health secretary Matt Hancock whether these restrictions could be changed to allow this group to take part in new trials of a Covid-19 treatment that uses donated blood plasma.
London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital last week announced that it is trialling the treatment, known as convalescent plasma, to see if patients whose bodies are not producing sufficient antibodies to fight Covid-19 benefit from a new treatment using the plasma of those who have recovered from the virus.
During women and equalities questions on Wednesday, Tory MP Robert Largan asked: “Can my right honourable friend tell me why a married, monogamous gay male couple living in the High Peak cannot donate blood or plasma including to the ongoing vital Covid-19 trial?”
Truss responded: “I appreciate that many gay and bisexual men want to contribute to the efforts to fight this virus.
“The rules that specify the conditions for donating blood are set by the Committee on the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs.
“I am taking up this matter with the health secretary to see what changes could be made.”
The NHS Blood and Transplant agency says the three-month wait for MSM is required to “reduce the risk of any very recently acquired infections not being detected on screening and further tests” as this group is at an “increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex”.
The Committee on the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs recommended in 2011 that the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood be lifted and it was reduced to a one-year abstinence requirement.
In 2017 that was cut to a three-month requirement and in 2019 an NHS steering group was set up to investigate whether a more “individualised risk assessment approach” could be taken to bring restrictions on gay and bisexual men more in line with those on heterosexuals.