A major change to blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men across the UK will allow more of them to qualify to donate blood.
Currently, UK men who have sex with men can only donate blood if they’ve been celibate for three months, even while in a monogamous relationship.
However the new criteria focus on individual behaviours, scrapping the blanket ban for any men who have had sex with men in the last three months.
It means men who have sex with one other man in a relationship of three months or more will be eligible to donate blood at any time.
The revamped questionnaire will ask prospective donors about behaviours deemed to be high risk of STI transmission, including anal sex, sex with multiple partners or drug use.
This new rule will also apply equally to heterosexual men and women, in a “more individualised risk-based approach”.
The changes are due to come into effect next year.
Safety of the UK’s blood supply maintained under new rules
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) oversees blood donations in England and transplants across the UK.
NHSBT associate medical director Su Brailsford said the new policy will maintain the safety of the blood supply.
“We are proud to have the safest blood supply in the world,” she said.
“Patients rely on the generosity and altruism of donors for their life-saving blood.”
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the changes “recognises individuals for the actions they take” rather than their sexual orientation.
UK campaign group FreedomToDonate has advocated for the change for several years.
“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,” campaigner Ethan Spibey said.
“Today, we welcome a pioneering new policy. [We’re] immensely proud that more people than ever will be able to fairly give the life-saving gift of blood.”
Australian advocates calling for similar changes
In Australia, the Lifeblood donation service announced this year Australia’s gay blood donor restrictions would also ease.
Currently, Lifeblood refuses gay, bisexual and trans blood donors who have had sex with men in the past 12 months.
However, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved Lifeblood’s proposal to lower that celibacy period to three months since last sexual contact.
This change was approved by then approved by government and will begin on January 31, 2021.
“Lifeblood would like to make it easier for all Australians to give blood, while ensuring Australia’s blood and blood products are as safe as possible for blood recipients,” a spokesperson said.
Australia enacted the 12-month deferral period for gay donors in 2000. Before then, they were banned from donating blood altogether in the wake of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
However Australian LGBTIQ advocates argue the new three-month rule will still exclude most gay men and should go further.
They say international research shows providers can safely reduce the deferral period further, due to HIV testing advances.
Advocacy group just.equal want a blood donation policy focused on “safety of sexual activity, rather than gender of sexual partner.”
A recent study found 78 per cent of gay and bisexual Australian men would donate blood if allowed.
However, they don’t, in order to comply with the current 12-month abstinence restriction.
One in three Australians will need blood or blood products in their lifetime. One blood donation can save up to three lives.