Artist illustration of blood donation

Landmark changes to UK blood donation criteria

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced new blood donation criteria in the UK, focused around individual behaviours, which will see the country become one of the first countries in the world to adopt a more individualised risk-based approach to donor selection.

The changes lift a blanket deferral on blood donation for men who have had sex with men in the last three months.

Under the new policy for selection criteria, donors who have had one sexual partner and who have been with their sexual partner for more than three months, will be eligible to donate regardless of their gender, the gender of their partner, or the type of sex they have.

The changes will have no impact on the safety of blood donated in the UK.

Announced by Mr Hancock for England, the move is also set to be implemented in each of the devolved administrations and comes following recommendations from the Advisory Committee for the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

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

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.

This change will be implemented by Summer 2021.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “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.”

Su Brailsford, Associate Medical Director at NHS Blood and Transplant and chair of FAIR said: “Patients rely on the generosity of donors for their lifesaving blood and so we welcome the decision to accept the FAIR recommendations in full.

“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 behaviours 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.”

Under the new selection process, all donors will complete the same donor health check prior to donation, regardless of gender or sexuality – viewed as a positive step forward for equality in blood donation, recognising the risk that all donors, including heterosexual men and women, have the potential to carry infections.

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 those who have been treated for syphilis in the last 12 months.

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