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Blood donation rules relaxed in England for gay and bisexual men

The government is calling it a "landmark change" - but the Chief Exec of the National AIDS Trust says "remaining inequalities" must be addressed.

By Jamie Tabberer

Words: Jamie Tabberer

Blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men in England will be relaxed from summer 2021, it has been confirmed.

Under existing rules, there is a blanket ban on any man who has had sex with another man in the last three months from donating.

This means that currently, gay and bisexual men must abstain from sex for three months in order to donate.

Under new rules, all blood donors who have had one sexual partner in the last three months, and have been with that partner for more than three months, will be eligible.

According to the BBC, donors who have had more than one sexual partner or a new partner in the last three months will also be able to donate as long as they did not have anal sex – a sexual act which is considered ‘high risk’ for HIV transmission.

However, the rules will still defer those who have engaged in Chemsex, (defined by the government as ‘A drug taken immediately before or during sex to enhance sexual interaction’) in the last three months or been treated for syphilis in the last 12 months.

“A landmark change”

The government is calling the move a “landmark change”, announcing that under recommendations from the Advisory Committee for the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs (SaBTO), “donors will be eligible to donate regardless of their gender, the gender of their partner, or the type of sex they have.”

The change makes the UK one of the first countries in the world to adopt a more individualised risk-based approach to donor selection criteria, they say.

“The ‘For Assessment of Individualised Risk’ (FAIR) steering group, a collaboration of UK blood services and LGBT charities led by NHSBT and established in 2019, conducted extensive research into the risks associated with more individualised blood donor selection policy,” the government said in a statement.

“Their report, published today, proposed a move away from a blanket three-month deferral for men who have had sex with men, and instead to identifying a wider range of ‘highest risk behaviours’ which applies to all donors, regardless of sexuality.”

Responding to the news, Dr Michael Brady, medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust told Attitude: “This is a big day for blood donation in the UK that will allow many more gay and bisexual men to safely donate blood.

“The move to a more individualised assessment is grounded in a robust evidence base, and the decision will increase the number of potential donors while also ensuring the safety of the UK’s blood supply.”

“A positive step”

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock commented: “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.

“This is a positive step and recognises individuals for the actions they take, rather than their sexual preference.”

“Address the remaining inequalities”

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive at National AIDS Trust, added: “We welcome this step towards a fairer system of individualised, evidence-based assessment of risk for people who choose to donate blood.

“It’s important that the government now builds on this to address the remaining inequalities in blood donation policies, such as restrictions for people who have ever injected drugs. In doing so it should prioritise protecting the safety of the blood supply while maximising the potential for people to give blood.

“We now need to see action on the endemic health inequalities that lead to the disproportionate impact of HIV on some groups including gay and bisexual men and people from black African communities. This includes the government meeting its commitment to end new HIV transmissions by 2030 and implementing the findings of the HIV Commission, which set out how this can be achieved.”

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