The UK Changes Blood Donation Rules for Gay and Bisexual Men

While the UK has updated its blood donation rules for men who have sex with men, much work remains in terms of providing equal treatment to gay and bisexual men.

For the past few years, UK policy dictated that gay, bisexual and MSM communities had to abstain from sex for a full year before donating blood. This rule was introduced in 2011 and repealed the lifetime ban on MSM donating blood.

At the time, this was a welcome change, but critics argued that plenty of evidence suggested that the blood supply would remain secure even if the deferral period was much shorter — or nonexistent.

Based on this claim, government and health agencies committed to a periodic review of the measures, taking into account the latest science on blood screening and contaminant detection.

A step forward for several communities

As of November 28, men in England, Wales and Scotland who have sex with other men can donate blood if they have abstained from same-gender sex for three months. Other screening safeguards remain in place, meaning that those individuals will still need to submit to a questionnaire to determine whether they are particularly high-risk and ineligible. In addition, post-donation screening measures will remain in place, with the NHS routinely screening for HIV, Hepatitis C and other viral agents.

Sex workers who had previously been totally banned from donating blood will now also be eligible under the three-month deferral criteria.

Dr. Gail Miflin, medical and research director at NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), explained:

The SaBTO review took into account the latest available medical and scientific evidence. This included more information about the risk of acquiring infections that can be passed on in blood, more evidence on how well donors comply with our guidelines and also more evidence that supports the reliability of the blood screening tests we use.

We have one of the safest blood supplies in the world. Anyone may require a blood transfusion in the future and so it’s in all our interests to ensure that we work hard to keep blood safe for patients.

The quest for blood donation parity

While this is a recognizable step in the right direction to ensure that more individuals can safely donate blood, the three-month deferral period remains fundamentally discriminatory.

That’s because it treats all men who have sex with men as high risk and de facto bars them from donating unless they abstain. Meanwhile, straight people are free to donate regardless of any risky sexual behavior. In essence, the policy still treats certain groups of people as high risk, rather than focusing on individual behaviors.

What would individual screening look like? As part of the routine questionnaire for blood donation, prospective donors could be asked about their sex lives, whether they routinely use condoms, if they are in a monogamous relationship, if they have been tested for STIs in the past three months and so-on. A process like this would allow for a more nuanced approach to donation without dramatically burdening donation site staff. And studies have shown that this approach could dramatically increase the available blood donation pool.

Liam Beattie, Blood Donations Policy lead at the Terrence Higgins Trust, praised the new regulations, but similarly noted that there is still work to be done:

We hope this paves the way for more progress as further evidence becomes available, and we’re now urging the government to continue to regularly review the deferral periods in line with the latest evidence. It will now be vital for those who are now eligible to donate blood to be made aware of these changes.

The current changes do not affect Northern Ireland which, as part of its self-governance on domestic matters, can set its own policy on blood donation. Northern Ireland currently uses the 12-month deferral period.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

47 comments

Chrissie R
Chrissie R15 days ago

Thank you for posting.

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Andrea S
Andrea S18 days ago

hope canada follows suit!

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Vincent T
Vincent T22 days ago

Thank you

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Maureen G
Maureen G25 days ago

As a person who has been dependent on the blood bank for over 20 years I am also dependent on the blood supply not being contaminated for any reason. I am very grateful for those who have donated blood so I could become a wife, mother and a grandmother and live a useful life. There are many reasons why blood cannot be accepted not just the one discussed here. My grandson cannot give blood as he works in an abattoir and the vaccination necessary for his job unfortunately prevents him from being able to be a blood donor.

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Jerome S
Jerome S25 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S25 days ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven25 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven25 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago

Thanks

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