A change in blood donation criteria in the UK now means men who have sex with men in a long-term relationship will be able to donate blood. The move was announced this week by UK health secretary Matt Hancock and makes the UK one of the first countries in the world to move to a more individualized risk-based approach to blood donor criteria.
Following an investigation and subsequent recommendation by the Advisory Committee for the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs (SaBTO), potential donors who have only one sexual partner and have been with them for more than 3 months will be eligible to donate regardless of gender, gender of their partner or the type of sex they have.
“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,” UK health secretary Matt Hancock said following the announcement of the news.
“This is a positive step and recognizes individuals for the actions they take, rather than their sexual preference.”
Extensive research into potential risks associated with more individualized blood donation selection policies was conducted by the For Assessment of Individualized Risk (FAIR) steering group, a collaboration of LGBTQ charities and UK blood services that was established in 2019.
“By closely examining the latest evidence relating to blood donation and sexual behavior, we have been able to bring forward more inclusive policy to allow people to safely donate blood to save lives,” Lord Bethell, the UK’s minister for blood donation said.
“I am grateful to the members of the FAIR steering group, including LGBT charities, for the work they have done over the last 18 months to enable us to bring this policy, which many have called for, to fruition.”
FAIR’s report, published this week, recommended a move away from the blanket 3-month for deferral for men having sex with other men and instead proposed to identify a bigger range of high risk behaviors, which apply to all donors, regardless of sexuality.
“Patients rely on the generosity of donors for their lifesaving blood and so we welcome the decision to accept the FAIR recommendations in full,” Su Brailsford, Associate Medical Director at NHS Blood and Transplant and chair of FAIR said.
“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.
“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 behaviors 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.”
In the new selection process, all donors will be asked to complete the same donor health check before donating, regardless of sexuality or gender. The move has been hailed as a positive step forward for equality in blood donation, a move that recognizes that all donors have potential to carry infections.
“Our first priority must be to ensure the safety of the blood supply in the UK. We welcome the move to a more individualized risk assessment approach to blood donation. The UK is leading the way in ensuring that blood donation is more inclusive and now will allow many more gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men to donate blood,” Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said.
“There is certainly more work to do and we will continue to work to ensure that our blood donation service is inclusive, evidence based and both maximizes the numbers who can donate while ensuring our blood supply is safe.”
Any individual wishing to donate will be eligible if they have had the same sexual partner in the last three months. Donors will not be asked to declare their sexuality or if they have had sex with another man.
“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,” Ethan Spibey, founder of FreedomToDonate, said.
“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.”