A SCOTTISH LGBT equality charity has welcomed changes in blood donation rules, which will remove the deferment period for some gay and bisexual men from donating blood and replace it with an individual risk assessment regardless of sexual orientation.

The policy, taking effect on World Blood Donor Day, will allow thousands of gay and bisexual men to donate for the first time.

The changes, which come into effect across Britain now and Northern Ireland later in the year, mean UK blood services will now assess donor eligibility on a person-by-person basis instead of applying across-the-board restrictions.

The Equality Network’s development manager Scott Cuthbertson said: “I’ve been campaigning on the issue of blood donation for gay and bisexual men for over 15 years, and for me this was never about a right to give, but the fact there were many gay and bisexual men that could do so safely.

“I’m pleased the evidence, assessed by experts, has concluded that to be true, and that many thousands of gay and bisexual men will be able to donate their blood and help save lives.

“Today, during Pride Month, I’m proud to donate my blood for the first time alongside many other gay and bisexual men across the UK as the rules which we long felt to be unnecessarily exclusionary have been replaced with a person-by-person risk assessment.”

Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) director Craig Spalding said: “These changes follow an evidence-based review by the UK-wide Fair (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group.

“It concluded the new donor selection system will maintain the UK’s status as having one of the safest blood supplies in the world. The Fair recommendations were designed by epidemiology, sexual health and infectious disease experts.

“The recommendations were accepted in full by the Scottish and UK governments in December 2020.

“I am proud to implement these changes in SNBTS, and I would like to extend my thanks to all current and future donors in Scotland.”

The Equality Network has been involved in campaigning for fair blood donation rules since 2005, working with the SNBTS, most recently as part of the Fair steering group. The lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) was lifted in 2011. A 12-month deferment was replaced with a three-month deferment in 2017.

Among those affected by the change are married couple Steven Smillie and Tyler McNeil, both 35, from Edinburgh.

Smillie said: “I am looking forward to giving blood for the first time in 17 years. It is right in a fair and equal society that the ability to donate blood should be based on an individual’s behaviours and not the gender of their partner.”

McNeil, a veterinary surgeon, added: “I am aware from my work how donated blood can save lives and I am glad that the changes in the blood donation criteria will enable me to donate for the first time in my life.”

James Perrie, from Falkirk, will give his first donation at the Glasgow Donor Centre. He said: “As a gay man working for the SNBTS, I have always felt sad that I was unable to take part in blood donation due to my sexual orientation, especially when you hear all the good that the donation can do.

“Now, with Fair, I feel much more included as an individual. The SNBTS also issued a call for more people to volunteer, with a target of 500 new blood donors each week over the summer months.”