After a long wait, gay and bisexual men are able to donate blood more freely, following an overhaul of “dehumanising” blood donation rules.
Under the old rules, gay and bi men were unable to donate blood unless they’d abstained from sexual activity for more than three months. They were also specifically asked about their sexuality on donation forms.
The reasoning given was that “at a population level, men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex”.
But under the new rules in England, Scotland and Wales, eligibility to give blood will be based on individual circumstances surrounding health, travel and sexual behaviours instead.
What does the rule change mean?
Any individual who attends to give blood – regardless of gender – will be asked if they’ve had sex and, if so, about recent sexual behaviours.
Those who’ve had the same sexual partner for the last three months will be eligible to donate – regardless of gender or sexuality.
People will also be able to donate if they have a new sexual partner with whom they’ve not had anal sex and there is no known recent exposure to an STI or recent use of PrEP or PEP.
To mitigate risks, those who’ve had anal sex with a new partner or with multiple partners in the last three months will not be able to give blood, but may be eligible in the future.
Donors who have been recently treated for gonorrhoea will be deferred and anyone who’s ever received treatment for syphilis will not be able to give blood.
Wasn’t this rule change announced last year?
Yes, but it’s only just coming into play from June 14.
The changes follow an evidence-based review by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group led by NHS Blood and Transplant.
The new donor selection system is designed to be fairer and will also maintain the UK’s status as one of the safest blood supplies in the world. Data around the impact of the donor selection changes will be kept under review and assessed 12 months after implementation to determine if changes are needed.
How do people feel about it?
Commenting on the rule changes when they were first announced in December, Adam Bloodworth wrote for HuffPost UK: “What people may not realise is that dehumanising rules like these reinforce feelings of shame that many LGBTQ people carry around with them as a heavy mental burden each day.
“By being discounted from an activity most people are encouraged to do, we’re reminded that we are perceived to be ‘different’ by some in society – no matter how many times people tell us we aren’t.”
Ethan Spibey was prevented from donating blood due to his sexuality – he’d wanted to do his bit and donate after a blood donor saved his grandfather’s life, but was unable to do so. Spibey, who has since been campaigning for a change to donation rules and founded FreedomToDonate, said: “The work of the FAIR steering group shows that simply being a man who has sex with men is not a good enough reason to exclude someone from donating blood.
“This is more than just about a fairer and more inclusive system, it’s about those who rely on blood, and giving blood literally saves lives. I can’t wait to finally repay that first pint. I would encourage anyone who is able to safely donate blood to register to do so.”
How to donate blood
Gay and bi men who’ve previously been turned away for blood donation can call NHS Blood and Transplant on 0300 123 23 23, which can review the new guidelines with you and, if eligible, book your next appointment.
Robbie de Santos, from the charity Stonewall, welcomed the “historic change”.
“We want to see a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely and 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,” he said.