More gay and bisexual men can donate blood after NHS rule change

The rule change means men in long-term relationship will be able to give blood from next summer

Daisy Lester
Monday 14 December 2020 07:26 GMT
<p>Gay and bisexual man were banned from donating blood prior to 2011&nbsp;</p>

Gay and bisexual man were banned from donating blood prior to 2011 

Campaigners have welcomed the relaxation of NHS rules which prevent some gay and bisexual men donating blood.

The change means men who have sex with men (MSM) in a long-term relationship will be able to give blood from next summer.

Under previous rules, NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) required all such men to abstain from sex for three months before donating.

The Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, welcomed the news and said the rule change would lead to “fairer blood donation system.”

Among the changes is amendments to the donor health check questionnaire, where new behaviour-based deferrals to individually assess the risk of potential donors will be introduced. These considerations will be weighed against high-risk sexual behaviours such as having multiple partners or taking part in “chemsex” – drug use during sex.

The biggest change will mean anyone who has the same sexual partner for more than three months will now be eligible to donate, if there is no known exposure to sexually transmitted infections or if there has been use of anti-HIV drugs PreP or PEP, according to NHSBT.

Su Brailsford, associate medical director at NHSBT, said: "Patients rely on the generosity and altruism of donors for their life-saving blood.

“We are proud to have the safest blood supply in the world and I'm pleased to have concluded that these new changes to donor selection will keep blood just as safe.”

NHSBT added: "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.

"A set of other deferrals will also be introduced for the other higher risk sexual behaviours identified, such as if a person recently had chemsex, and updated for anyone who has had syphilis."

The change comes after recommendations from the Fair (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk)) steering group which has been fully accepted by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Fair found that the new deferral system will maintain a safe supply of blood in the UK, where according to the NHSBT there is currently a less than one in a million chance of not detecting hepatitis B, C and HIV infection in a donation.

Dr Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "Welcome changes include the differentiation between oral and anal sex, and for those whose partner is HIV positive and virally suppressed due to six months or more of adherence to treatment.

"There is certainly more work to do and we will continue to work to ensure that our blood donation service is inclusive and evidence based.

"We now need to look at the restrictions in place for other groups, including former injecting drug users, to see if we can safely make the blood donation eligibility even more inclusive."

Ms Brailsford added: "We will keep collaborating with and listening to LGBT representatives, patients and current donors to make sure by summer 2021, when we bring about these changes, that our process for getting accurate information from donors about their sexual behaviours is inclusive and done well."

Back in 2011, the Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs recommended that the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood be lifted which led to rules outlining a one-year abstinence from sex. This was cut to three months in 2017.

During the coronavirus pandemic, ministers were urged to scrap “outdated” restrictions regarding gay and bisexual men donating blood and antibodies to help vaccine research.

The current rules regarding three months of celibacy also applied to vital donations of plasma. Ethan Spibey, from the campaign group Freedom to Donate, said gay and bisexual men were being ignored despite the need for 68,000 new male donors this year. 

“It is entirely understandable that people are not just upset, but outraged that they too are not able to do something so incredible like donating blood, which literally saves lives," he said.

Additional reporting by PA

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