By Faith Pring
Nottingham’s LGBTQ+ community has welcomed the Government’s landmark decision to change blood donation rules making it easier for gay and bisexual men to donate.
Under the previous system men had to abstain from sex with other men for three months before donating due to a perceived increased statistical risk of sexually transmitted infections contaminating blood supply.
It meant men in long-term same-sex relationships were prevented from giving blood unless they were celibate for 12 weeks.
But now a project run by a University of Nottingham team has helped created a new universal system for assessing a donor’s infection risk.
It means anyone who has been with their sexual partner for at least three months can donate regardless of their sexuality or gender.
Chris Sims, a gay man from Nottingham, is one of many people who will be affected by the change.
He has welcomed the decision and is planning to donate in the new year.
The 42-year-old said: “I’m delighted that I’ll be able to give blood.
“It’s always frustrated me that I’ve not been able to do it before, so I’m really looking forward to finally being able to make a contribution and help save lives.”
Chris also believes the change to rules signify another step closer to equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
He said: “It’s long been a very obvious point of inequality based on outdated prejudice, and it’s stopped a lot of much-needed blood donations from being made.
“However, I do see that it’s important to reassure people in terms of ensuring the safety of blood supplies, so I’m glad that the change is being brought in on the back of clear research-based evidence about this.
“Because of this change, lives may be saved that might otherwise have been lost and that’s the thing I’m happiest about.”
The Nottinghamshire LGBT+ Network also said that they welcome the change to the donation rules.
They said: “For years gay and bisexual men have felt stigmatised by the rules banning them from donating blood, many of which would have been happy to donate potentially life-saving blood.
“It is brilliant news to know the new criteria focuses on individual behaviours, and it is definitely a step in the right direction however there is still some work to do to achieve a level playing field for blood donors of all sexualities.”
Professor Eamonn Ferguson and Dr Claire Lawrence were part of the FAIR project – For the Assessment of Individual Risk – whose research team at the University of Nottingham was behind the change.
Dr Lawrence said: “People were overwhelmingly keen to see equality, they didn’t see why sexuality was the issue really, and we were repeatedly finding very little concern about it.”
Professor Ferguson added: “All the evidence we got back was people saying it was a positive change and one that could be implemented successfully as well.
“The evidence we gathered suggests that it was more inclined to encourage other people to donate anyway, so it may be that it is signalling something about equality and fairness.”