Landmark change to blood donation rules means gay and bisexual men will be able to donate

Date published: 05 January 2021

Men who have sex with men – who are in a long-term relationship – will be able to donate blood in England, following changes to blood donation criteria.

Following recommendations from the Advisory Committee for the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs (SaBTO), donors who have had one sexual partner and who have been with their sexual partner for more than three months, will be eligible to donate regardless of their gender, the gender of their partner, or the type of sex they have.

The move, which will also be implemented in each of the devolved administrations, sees the UK become one of the first countries in the world to adopt a more individualised risk-based approach to donor selection criteria.

The ‘For Assessment of Individualised Risk’ (FAIR) steering group, a collaboration of UK blood services and LGBT charities led by NHSBT and established in 2019, conducted extensive research into the risks associated with more individualised blood donor selection policy.

Their report, published last month, proposed a move away from a blanket three-month deferral for men who have had sex with men, and instead to identifying a wider range of ‘highest risk behaviours’ which applies to all donors, regardless of sexuality.

This change will be implemented by summer 2021.

In a further step forward for equality in blood donation, under the new selection process, all donors will complete the same donor health check prior to donation, regardless of gender or sexuality, recognising that all donors, including heterosexual men and women, have potential to carry infections.

Anyone who has had the same sexual partner in the last three months will be eligible to donate and men who have sex with men will no longer be asked to declare if they have had sex with another man or their sexuality, making blood donation gender neutral and more inclusive.

Su Brailsford, Associate Medical Director at NHS Blood and Transplant and chair of FAIR, said: “This is just the beginning. We will keep collaborating with LGBT representatives, patients and donors so when we make these changes our process for getting accurate donor information about sexual behaviours is inclusive and done well.

“FAIR has also made a recommendation to government that further evidence-based reviews are needed for other deferrals such as how we determine risk based on travel.”

New donor criteria will also defer those who have engaged in ‘chem sex’, defined as a drug taken immediately before or during sex to enhance sexual interaction, in the last three months or been treated for syphilis in the last 12 months.

Ethan Spibey, founder of FreedomToDonate, said: “We have campaigned for over 6 years for the restrictions on men who have sex with men (MSM) donating blood to be updated and warmly welcome this announcement.

“This means the UK has one of the world’s most progressive blood donation policies and more people than ever will be able to safely donate for those who need it. The work of the FAIR steering group shows that simply being a MSM is not a good enough reason to exclude someone from donating blood.

“We’ve made great progress and look forward to continuing to work with the government and others to ensure as many people who could safely donate blood can do so.”

Nancy Kelley, Chief Executive, Stonewall, said: “This change will help ensure more gay and bi men can donate blood, and represents an important first step towards a donation selection policy entirely based on an individualised assessment of risk. We will continue to work with government to build on this progress and ensure that more people, including LGBT+ people, can donate blood safely in the future.

“While we welcome this news, we know much more still needs to be done to tackle the challenges that lead to gay and bi men, along with other groups of people including black African communities, sex workers, and trans communities, being at higher risk of acquiring HIV and other STIs.”

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