As of today, World Blood Donor Day (June 14), new blood donor rules come into effect in England, Scotland, and Wales. Rule changes mean that British blood services will now assess donor eligibility on a person-by-person basis instead of applying a blanket restriction.
Unfortunately, the rule change has been delayed in Northern Ireland, due to a shortage in staff and training resources. It is hopeful that the changes will take effect in NI in September of this year.
Old restrictions meant that men who have sex with men were less likely to be accepted for blood donation, as restrictions were biased towards this demographic. Now, 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.
“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,” a statement from the NHS Blood and Transplant said.
The move follows recommendations of the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) Report; this included insight from Stonewall, and HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust.
The new relaxation of blood donor rules has been welcomed by many LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and the long-sought for change in policy has already been hailed as ‘historic.’
Robbie de Santos, Director of Communications and External Affairs for Stonewall said: “We welcome today’s historic change, which will help ensure more gay and bi men can donate blood and represents an important step towards a donation selection policy entirely based on an individualised assessment of risk.”
However, the Terrence Higgins Trust has said that the government has kept a “discriminatory restriction” in England, which will affect the black communities’ ability to give blood.
This particular restriction disallows individuals from donating if they have had a sexual partner in the last three months “who has, or you think may have been, sexually active in parts of the world where HIV/Aids is very common” and references “most countries in Africa,” the charity added.
Chief Executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, Ian Green said the “excitement” of today’s rule change was “significantly dampened by another discriminatory question being retained by the government in the blood donation process in England, which presents a significant barrier to black donors, in particular, giving blood.”
“This is despite it being removed in both Scotland and Wales, and the blood service actively encouraging black communities to donate plasma and blood due to shortages,” he added.
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