In a landmark decision, the National Health Service of the United Kingdom announced it is loosening restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood. Using the recommendations of the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualized Risk) steering group, the NHS will now conduct assessments based on an individual questionnaires, rather than using broader population-based assumptions. The change means neb who are sexually active with the same male partner for the prior three months can now be considered for donation. Previously, only men who had abstained from sexual relations with others for three months could donate blood.
“We welcome this decision by government to accept the recommendations made by FAIR in full,” Su Brailsford, associate medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant and Chair of FAIR, said in a statement. “We will keep collaborating with and listening to LGBT representatives, patients and current donors to make sure by Summer 2021, when we bring about these changes, that our process for getting accurate information from donors about their sexual behaviors is inclusive and done well.”
The new rules also differentiate between anal and oral sex. Those men who have anal sex with new partners are still ‘deferred’ or prevented from donating, while men who engage only in oral sex are not. Men who use PrEP are also temporarily deferred pending the results of a separate study.
“The UK is leading the way in ensuring that blood donation is more inclusive and now will allow many more gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men to donate blood,” Dr Michael Brady, medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said in a statement, also noting there is “more work to do and we will continue to work to ensure that our blood donation service is inclusive, evidence based and both maximizes the numbers who can donate while ensuring our blood supply is safe.”
“Patients rely on the generosity and altruism of donors for their lifesaving blood,” Ethan Spibey, founder of FreedomToDonate, said in a statement. “We are proud to have the safest blood supply in the world and I’m pleased to have concluded that these new changes to donor selection will keep blood just as safe.
Earlier this year in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised their recommendations on blood donations by queer men and the men and women who have sex with them. Previously, that guideline stipulated that men who had sex with men and the women who had sex with them were barred from donating blood or plasma if they had been sexually active in the prior 12 months. The new guidelines shorten that deferral period to three months.
"The U.K. has taken a critical step in aligning their blood donation policy with science instead of stigma," Mathew Lasky, GLAAD's Director of Communications, said in a statement. "As the FDA continues to reconsider its blood donation policies here in the United States, the decision in the United Kingdom offers further proof that US blood donation policies for gay and bisexual men, and other LGBTQ people are, are outdated, out of line with science, and must change to be based on individual assessments rather than discriminatory blanket bans."