The changes will be enforced by summer 2021.
Giving blood to others is a great way to save lives, however donors in the UK must meet certain criteria in order to do so. Until today, gay and bisexual men were unable to donate unless they had not had sex with men in the past three months. However, the Department of Health and Social Care has now relaxed these rules across the UK, opening up the possibility for more gay and bisexual men to give blood.
The new criteria, which will be implemented by summer 2021, focuses on individual behaviours, lifting a blanket ban for any men who have had sex with men in the last three months. The biggest change will mean anyone who has the same sexual partner for more than three months will be eligible to give blood if there is no known exposure to an STI or use of drugs to treat HIV. Donors will no longer be asked to declare if they have had sex with another man, making the criteria for blood donation gender neutral and more inclusive.
The change comes after the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group, a collaboration of UK blood services and LGBT charities, was asked by the government two years ago to conduct an evidence-based review. The group researched whether sexual behaviours could be an effective measure of assessing individual risk of sexually transmitted infection, which could be passed on through blood transfusions.
In addition, if donors have had more than one sexual partner or a new partner in the last three months, they can give blood as long as they have not had anal sex. According to the review from FAIR, having anal sex is one of the sexual behaviours that carries the most risk of a sexually transmitted infection.
In a report published today, FAIR proposes moving away from the previous blanket three-month deferral for men who have had sex with men. Instead, they have opted for identifying a wider range of “high risk behaviours” which apply to all blood donors, regardless of their sexuality. The group states that these changes will still maintain a “world-leading” safe supply of blood in the UK.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock called this a “positive step” as it recognises individuals for the actions they take “rather than their sexual preference”. He added: “This landmark change to blood donation is safe and it will allow many more people, who have previously been excluded by donor selection criteria, to take the opportunity to help save lives.”
Acknowledging that “all donors” have potential to carry infections, including heterosexual men and women, the government claims the UK has now become one of the first countries in the world to adopt a “more individualised risk-based approach” to donor selection criteria.
Su Brailsford, associate medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Patients rely on the generosity and altruism of donors for their life-saving blood. I’m pleased to have concluded that these new changes to donor selection will keep blood just as safe.
“This is just the beginning of a more individualised way of assessing blood donation eligibility and we recognise that more work needs to be done, which is why 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.”
You can find all the recommendations given by FAIR here.
[Featured Image: NHS Blood and Transplant]