Gay and bisexual men will be able to donate blood without discriminatory rules from Summer 2021.
The long-overdue rule change will mean the current 3-month abstinence rule will be scrapped, allowing thousands of men to donate for the first time.
Announcing the news for all parts of the UK, the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) said it will move to a more individual risk assessment for all donations, which will involve donors being asked additional questions about their sexual behaviour.
The changes follow recommendations by the specialist steering group for Assessment of Individualised Risk (FAIR) made up of leading medical and academic experts and LGBT+ groups.
The rules last changed in 2017 when the outright ban was lifted and a 12-week ‘deferral’ period was implemented, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate if they had not had any sexual activity over the previous 3 months. Previous to that, the deferral period was 12 months, which was seen by many as a continuation of the outright ban.
The blood donor rules have been a controversial policy for a number of years, with politicians of all parties keen to overturn the ban, including long-time campaigner and SNP MSP Linda Fabiani. Speaking to Pink Saltire, she said:
“I’m really pleased that this change has eventually taken place – it’s been a long time coming, and many have campaigned hard over the years for fairness and equity. Individualised assessment, regardless of sex, gender or sexual orientation, is good news for gay men who want to donate blood and good news for the transfusion service.”
Scott Cuthbertson of the Equality Network said:
“We’re delighted with the news that new fairer blood donation rules are being implemented on an individualised assessment, this is something we’ve been calling for, for 15 years.”
Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service Director (SNBTS), Craig Spalding said:
“We are proud to have been involved in the work that has been undertaken to enable the Scottish Government to make an informed decision on reviewing and changing donor eligibility requirements.”
“Donor eligibility based on personal risk assessments, rather than on broader demographic information such as sexuality, is a welcome change.”
“We are grateful for all the donors of Scotland and are looking forward to welcoming a broader cross section of the population, in particular those men who have sex with men who will be able to donate blood under the new criteria.”
Five years ago, the Freedom To Donate campaign was launched calling for an end to the discriminatory rules. They’ve said today the UK now has “one of the world’s most progressive and pioneering blood donation policies“.
The Scottish Government’s Public Health Minister, Joe FitzPatrick MSP, said:
“I welcome the recommendations of the FAIR group, which will enable a more individualised risk assessment approach to blood donor safety checks while continuing to ensure the safe supply of blood to patients.”
“We are committed to equality and inclusion, and these changes will ensure a fairer and more up to date assessment of risk is applied to both men and women to identify whether donors may be at risk of a blood-borne virus infection.”
“I am pleased to announce SNBTS expects to be able to implement these changes by summer 2021. They will be working to prepare their systems and staff for these changes and will also be working to raise awareness of the changes with existing and potential donors in advance.”
In January 2020, the NHS asked for more than 68,000 men to sign up to donate blood, with male blood products being used in the treatment of cancer, in newborn babies and for trauma patients.