Sexuality-based restrictions removed from blood donation rules in Ireland

The newly introduced Individual Donor Risk Assessment aims to welcome new donors regardless of gender or sexual identity.

Medical professional holding blood donation test tubes.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

As of Monday, November 28, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) will no longer include sexuality-based restrictions in its blood donation guidelines. Potential donors will now be evaluated on a person-by-person basis, rather than having risks associated with specific demographics applied to their case, as has been done in the past. Traditionally, this has impacted gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) as well as trans people.

The newly introduced Individual Donor Risk Assessment aims to welcome new donors regardless of gender or sexual identity, with the same guidelines now being in place for straight and LGBTQ+ people. In the past, gbMSM had to abstain from sexual activity for minimum periods of time in order to be eligible to give blood, but now, anyone in an exclusive relationship for over four months should be able to donate, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation, or those of their partner.

There are still some social behaviours that will restrict a person’s eligibility including engaging in chemsex or having anal sex with new or multiple partners. However, this will no longer be specific to gbMSM or trans applicants.

Permanent exclusions will be given to those who have used injections for chemsex, as well as people who have ever been diagnosed with syphilis or gonorrhoea. HIV Positive people and their partners are also not eligible to donate, while other STIs warrant a four-month deferral. Additionally, if a person has taken PrEP, PEP or ART within the previous four months at the time of applying, they will also be unable to give blood.

The new system is similar to the one that was introduced in the UK Blood Services in 2021. It is expected that the IBTS will lose approximately 4% of current donors, but that many more queer patients will be able to give blood.

Speaking about the new guidelines, Dr Tor Hervig, IBTS Medical & Scientific Director stated: “This is a fairer way to assess donor risk. Using a donor’s individual behaviours to determine if that person is eligible to donate makes the process fairer for all donors and more inclusive, while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.  Every donor will be asked the same questions about their sexual activity, regardless of the donor’s gender or sexual orientation, or those of his/her partner.”

The changes come as a result of the recommendations made by the Social Behaviours Review Group (SBRG), an independent advisory committee that was established to review the evidence base for donor eligibility in Ireland.

HIV Ireland has welcomed the news, with Executive Director Stephen O’Hare saying: “The new policy, which will be applied to all potential donors, is a key step in the ongoing development of what can eventually be a world leading blood donation policy in Ireland.”

Adding to this, MPOWER Programme Manager and member of the SBRG, Adam Shanley, said that sexuality-based blood donation restrictions are something that activists have been fighting “to have changed for many years”.

While the progress is praised, Shanley also expressed disappointment surrounding the continued presence of certain restrictions.

“In reviewing ongoing deferral policies, every consideration should be given by the IBTS to the weight of robust scientific evidence on the efficacy of available treatments for STIs including in relation to sexual partners living with HIV who are virally supressed and cannot pass on HIV through sex,” he said.

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