Gay men and sex workers in the UK will soon be permitted to give blood three months after their last sexual activity as donation rules are updating across England and Scotland. In a fresh review, scientists agreed modern testing procedures can accurately catch signs of infection.
The legal changes, announced in a report published on Sunday 23 July, will come into effect in blood donation centres in Scotland in November and are expected to hit England in early 2018. The government may also relax rules around people with recent tattoos or piercings.
The report, from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, concluded that three months was enough time for medical staff to detect viruses or infections in donations. The move has been applauded by campaigning groups online.
Prof James Neuberger, the committee's chair, told the BBC: "Technologies to pick up the presence of the virus have greatly improved, so we can now pick up viruses at a much earlier stage in the infection, and therefore it's much easier to tell if a blood donor has the virus."
Medical officials from NHS Blood and Transplant said 200,000 new donors were needed every year to keep up supplies. They appealed for more donors from the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to give blood but said there was not currently a shortage in the UK.
The changes signify a "victory for science over stigmatising assumptions", Alex Phillips, blood donations policy lead at the Terrence Higgins Trust, told the BBC, adding that the previous lifetime ban on commercial sex workers based on "preconceptions rather than evidence".
Campaigning group Freedom to Donate tweeted: "You used to have to go 12 months without sex before you could donate blood. Now, just 3. You're welcome :) More work to do, damn good start!"
The group's founder, Ethan Spibey, said: "This is about risk. The fact is that gay men are more likely to carry a blood born virus, that is why they are restricted from donating and we agree with that in line with the medical evidence.
"We think that should be moved towards an individualised risk-based policy because you can't just brand a whole group as [being] unsafe from donating blood. This is about identifying that risk and calculating it against the medical evidence that exists.
"This policy today ensures that the safety of blood supply remains absolutely paramount.
Meanwhile, UK education secretary Justine Greening announced on 23 July that the government is also planning to reform gender identity legislation. UK adults will soon be able to legally change their identity without a doctor's diagnosis, the Sunday Times reported.
"This government is committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality and today we're taking the next step forward," Greening said.
"We will build on the significant progress we have made over the past 50 years, tackling some of the historic prejudices that still persist in our laws and giving LGBT people a real say on the issues affecting them."
The rules around blood donations vary across the UK. In September 2016, a controversial lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men was lifted in Stormont. It was replaced with the 12 month rule but it remains to be seen if that will again change in light of the new report.