Fresh attempts are being made to overturn a longstanding safeguard which stops blood donations from men who have engaged in sexual activity with other men.
Under current rules a man who has had anal intercourse with another man is not allowed to donate blood because such sexual behaviour is medically dangerous.
The National Blood Service (NBS) says overturning the rules would “result in a fivefold increase in the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the blood supply”.
But the Government Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (Sabto) is meeting today to review the issue as part of an official review of the policy.
The committee will consider data from the National Blood Service, other countries and research into public opinion before making its final recommendations to the Government next year.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, said that it accepted the ban.
A spokesman said: “We believe that the current policy of the National Blood Service was based on the best available evidence when it was drawn up.
“Only when an expert review has re-evaluated risks to the safety of the blood supply should the current policy be changed in line with new evidence.”
Earlier this year gay campaigners used a Pride London event to press the NBS to lift the ban after branding it “prejudiced”.
Responding to the accusations, the NBS said: “The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour rather than the sexuality of the person wishing to donate.
“There is, therefore, no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man, nor of women who have sex with women.”
Reasons for the ban
The NBS asserted in a position paper that in order “to assure the continued safety of the blood supply, we currently ask those in groups shown to have a particularly high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses not to give blood.
“These include men who have ever had sex with men.”
The position paper outlined the medical reasons for this policy, including: “While safer sex, through the use of condoms, does reduce the transmission of infections, it cannot eliminate the risk altogether.
“Men who have sex with men continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV and account for 63% of HIV diagnoses where the infection was likely to have been acquired in the UK.
“Epidemiological evidence in the UK also shows that there has been a significant increase in sexually-transmitted infections which can also be blood-borne, such as hepatitis B and syphilis, among men who have sex with men.
“Between 2002 and 2006, for example, there has been a 117% increase in syphilis infections in men who have sex with men.
“Research shows that completely removing the current exclusion on blood donation from men who have sex with men would result in a fivefold increase in the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the blood supply.
“While changing deferral to one year from the last sexual contact would have a lesser effect, it would still increase this risk by 60%.”