As our Northern Ireland LGBT co-ordinator posted yesterday on his own blog, from 7 November there will be a loosening of the lifetime ban on men who have sex with other men (MSM) from giving blood in the UK. At least there will be in England, Wales and Scotland, because as you may have guessed the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots, has yet to say if Stormont will follow suit.
The ban in England, Wales and Scotland will still be in place for MSM who have same-sex relations in the last twelve months. This does lift the ban on those sexually active bisexuals in mixed sex relationships and men who man have had a brief dalliance years ago. However, the ban still discriminates against monogamous MSM couples, those who practise safe sex continually (the man originally denies men who have sex with other men either anally or orally with or without a condom) and those who have a continuous trackable clean bloods record.
Giving blood is something that people do responsibly, just as having an up to date idea of your STI status is for the LGB community. There are already MSM who are sexually active but know that they are in monogamous long-term relations, know their STI status who give blood by lying on the Blood Transfusion Service forms. Lifting the lifetime ban to replace with one that is for 12 months.
The reason the government’s advisory committee on the Safety of Bloods, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) give was because of hepatitis B. If this is the only reason for excluding MSM within 12 months, those with a traceable bloods history through Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) Clinics or their GP should not be excluded. The reason? GUM clinics offer inoculation against Hep B and C as part of their service provision, with booster shots when they are required. Indeed it is a standard question when arriving for the first time or transferring your testing when did you last have a Hep shot. If the answer is unknown you are given a course of shots.
Therefore while there may be a higher occurance of Hepatitis in the MSM community those who are responsible enough to undergo regular screening are likely to be inoculated from the one reason SaBTO give for maintaining a 12 month referral period on MSM.