The changes have been enforced on World Blood Donor Day.
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, platelets and plasma.
The new criteria, which has been implemented on World Blood Donor Day (June 14), 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 over 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 in December 2020, which was also accepted in full by the government then, FAIR proposed 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.
Ethan Spibey, the founder of FreedomToDonate, said: “After many years of campaigning, and working with the UK’s blood services, we are delighted that this change is now coming into effect. Thanks to the work of dedicated individuals and charities alongside NHSBT, the UK now has one of the world’s most progressive blood donation policies and more people than ever will be able to safely donate blood. The work of the FAIR steering group shows that simply being a man who has sex with men is not a good enough reason to exclude someone from donating blood.
“This is more than just about a fairer and more inclusive system, it’s about those who rely on blood, and giving blood literally saves lives. I would encourage anyone who is able to safely donate blood to register to do so.”
Robbie de Santos, Director of Communications and External Affairs for Stonewall, said: “We welcome today’s historic change, which will help ensure more gay and bi men can donate blood and represents an important step towards a donation selection policy entirely based on an individualised assessment of risk. We want to see a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely and 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.”
You can find all the recommendations given by FAIR here.
[Featured Image: NHS Blood and Transplant]