Restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood are to be relaxed across the UK, meaning they will be able to donate more easily from summer 2021.
The NHS blood service announced the landmark policy change, which will now allow men who have sex with men in a long term relationship to be able to donate blood at any time.
‘Landmark change to blood donation’
The government has hailed the change in policy a “landmark change,” with Health Secretary Matt Hancock calling the decision a “positive step.”
Currently, the blood donation rules require all men who have had sex with men to abstain from sex for three months in order to give blood.
This rule came into place in 2017 under a series of equalities reforms in England and Scotland. Sex workers, who were previously banned from donating, were also included ino the same three month rule.
Gay and bisexual men were completely banned from donating blood at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The ban was reduced to 12 months of abstaining in 2011.
A more individual approach
The change in policy will mean risk assessments for donors will be conducted on an individual basis, rather than a population one.
This means that anyone who has had the same sexual partner for more than three months will be able to donate blood, if there is no known exposure to a sexually transmitted infection, and they are not taking drugs used to treat HIV.
If donors have had more than one sexual partner or a new partner in the last three months, they will still be able to donate, as long as they have not had anal sex, regardless of condom use.
All donors who have had only oral sex will be able to donate, and will not be deffered under the new policy.
The acknowledgement that all donors have the potential to carry infections, the government claims the UK is now one of the first countries in the world to have adopted a more individualised, risk-based approach for selection criteria.
The new questionnaire will include behaviour-based indicators to assess potential donors. This will include where a donor exhibits high risk sexual behaviour, meaning having multiple partners or taking part in so-called “chemsex.”
‘The UK is leading the way in making blood donation more inclusive’
Founder of the pressure group, FreedomToDonate, Ethan Spibey, has applauded the step, saying, “Almost six years ago, our group of volunteers set out to rewrite the rules that had perpetuated inequality and prevented thousands of potentially safe donors from donating for too long.
“Today, we welcome a pioneering new policy and are immensely proud that more people than ever will be able to fairly give the life-saving gift of blood.”
Medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, Dr Michael Brady, said, “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.”