Men who have sex with men in a long-term relationship will be able to donate blood in England following changes to blood donation criteria Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said, under the new selection process, all donors will complete the same donor health check prior to donation, regardless of gender or sexuality, recognising that all donors, including heterosexual men and women, have potential to carry infections.
Anyone who has had the same sexual partner in the last three months will be eligible to donate and men who have sex with men will no longer be asked to declare if they have had sex with another man or their sexuality, making blood donation gender-neutral and more inclusive.
New donor criteria will also defer those who have engaged in chem sex, defined 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.
Ethan Spibey, founder of FreedomToDonate, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
The move, which will also be implemented in each of the devolved administrations, sees the UK become one of the first countries in the world to adopt a more individualised risk-based approach to donor selection criteria.
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.
Their report 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.
This change will be implemented by Summer 2021.
Nancy Kelley, chief executive, Stonewall, welcomed the news but said more needs to be done to tackle the challenges that lead to groups of people being at higher risk of acquiring HIV and other STIs.
‘We want to see a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely.
‘This change will help ensure more gay and bi men can donate blood, and represents an important first step towards a donation selection policy entirely based on an individualised assessment of risk.
‘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.
‘While we welcome today’s news, we know much more still needs to be done to tackle the challenges that lead to gay and bi men, along with other groups of people including black African communities, sex workers, and trans communities, being at higher risk of acquiring HIV and other STIs.
‘The recommendations of the HIV Commission set out a clear roadmap for achieving the UK government’s commitment to ending new HIV infections by 2030, and we will continue to work with the government and other charities to make this a reality.’
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