More LGBTQ+ people to be eligible to give blood

Graham Robson May 11, 2021

More people from LGBTQ+ communities will be eligible to donate blood from next month after the launch of new donor safety assessment, meaning all donors, regardless of gender, will be asked the same sexual behaviour questions.

The changes will mean that eligibility to donate will be based on a more individualised assessment rather than on a risk assigned to a group or population, and deferrals will be based on behaviours evidenced to be at a higher risk of sexual infection.

From June 14World Blood Donor Day – the form that people complete before they donate will for the first time ask the same questions of all donors about sexual behaviours, focused mainly on the last three months.

Donors will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with another man. Instead, any individual who attends to give blood – regardless of gender – will be asked if they have had sex and, if so, about recent sexual behaviours. The process of giving blood will not change.

Lord Bethell, Minister for Blood Donation, said: “This marks another significant step forward in our ambition to make blood donation policy fairer and more inclusive, allowing as many people as possible to make the life-saving decision to give blood safely.

“I want to thank members of the FAIR steering group, including LGBTQ+ charities, who have been instrumental in enabling us to get to this moment. I encourage everyone who is able to: register to donate.”

Under the changes people can donate if they have had the same sexual partner for the last three months, or if they have a new sexual partner with whom they have not had anal sex, and there is no known recent exposure to an STI or recent use of PrEP or PEP. This will mean more men who have sex with men will be eligible to donate.

Anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner or with multiple partners in the last three months will be not be able to give blood right now but may be eligible in the future. Donors who have been recently treated for gonorrhoea will be deferred. Anyone who has ever received treatment for syphilis will not be able to give blood.

Ella Poppitt, Chief Nurse for Blood Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do. This change is about switching around how we assess the risk of exposure to a sexual infection, so it is more tailored to the individual.

“We screen all donations for evidence of significant infections before they are sent to hospitals. Donation testing goes hand in hand with donor selection to maintain the safety of the blood supply. All donors will now be asked about recent sexual behaviours which might have increased their risk of acquiring an infection. This means some donors might not be eligible on the day but may be eligible to donate in the future.

“Our priority is to make sure that donors are able to answer the pre-donation questions in a setting that makes them feel comfortable and safe. Staff are receiving training to make sure these more personal conversations are conducted with care and sensitivity and accurate information is captured.

“We are notifying donors of the changes so they can consider the new questions before their appointment and are able to re-schedule if they do not meet the changed criteria to give blood right now. We want donation to be a positive experience and we are looking forward to welcoming donors as we move forward with these changes.”

The changes follow an evidence-based review by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group led by NHS Blood and Transplant, and including, National AIDS Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and Stonewall, which concluded that switching to an individualised, gender neutral approach is fairer while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.

FAIR concluded that the new donor selection system will maintain the UK’s status as one of the safest blood supplies in the world. The findings were accepted in full by the government last December.

Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at THT, said: “It’s great to see these changes to blood donation eligibility being brought in from next month. We’ve always been clear that the safety of the blood supply is the priority here. This change to a more individualised risk assessment is in line with the latest scientific evidence while also allowing as many people as possible to safely donate blood.”

Nancy Kelley, Chief Executive of Stonewall, added: “We support a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely. By linking donor eligibility to health, travel and sexual activity with an individualised assessment of risk, these changes will help ensure more people, including gay and bi men, can donate blood.”

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. Feedback from donors, LGBTQ+ individuals, patients and representatives will be a key consideration in this review.

To become a blood donor, call 0300 123 23 23, download the GiveBloodNHS app or CLICK HERE. Appointments from June 14 onwards are available to book.

You can also donate plasma for antibody medicines that are used to save the lives of people with rare immune diseases – potential plasma donors should call 0300 123 23 23.