Changes making it easier for gay and bisexual men to donate blood will be introduced in Wales early next year, the Welsh government has said. The move, announced on Thursday, follows similar announcements in Scotland and England last month.
At the moment, men cannot give blood for 12 months after having sex with another man, but the deferral period will be reduced to three months.
Rebecca Evans, the Welsh public health minister, who ordered the change, said she wanted to ensure that “as many people as possible” were able to donate blood and meet the demand of Welsh patients. The change was recommended after a review by the UK’s advisory committee on the safety of blood, tissues and organs.
Evans said: “In Wales and the UK, we’re fortunate to have one of the safest blood supplies in the world. Thanks to advances in medical science, we now have a far better understanding of the way infections are transmitted through blood.
“The changes I’m announcing today will help ensure we keep blood donors and the patients who receive their blood safe, while also ensuring more people have the opportunity to donate blood.”
Fears over infections being passed on through donations from gay men led to an outright ban at the height of the Aids epidemic, but that was changed in 2011 to a deferral period of 12 months. Medical advances mean that the period can now be cut further, and the reduced deferral will also apply to commercial sex workers, those who have sex with a high-risk partner and those who have sex with a partner who has been sexually active in areas where HIV is common.
Evans, meanwhile, has written to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to express her concerns about the “inadequate notice” the Welsh government was given ahead of the UK government’s announcement of the change for the NHS in England on 23 July.
She said “full and meaningful engagement” at ministerial and official levels has not taken place on the issue, which she said had “compromised the Welsh government’s ability to deliver a seamless and coherent policy for our blood services, patients and the public on the basis of the new expert recommendations”.
She said: “I expect a more joined-up and respectful conversation between governments and look for a clear commitment that we will not be put in an unacceptable position like this again.”
Evans said she had asked the Welsh Blood Service to look at how the changes could be introduced, including the use of more personalised risk assessments for individual donors.