I would like to inform the House about changes that the Government will be making to the blood donor selection criteria. This announcement forms part of the wider steps the Government have taken to make blood donation more equitable.
In 2019, the Government commissioned the ‘For the Assessment of Individualised Risk’ (FAIR) steering group to consider whether changes could be made to the blood donor selection criteria to ensure it was as effective and inclusive as possible.
On 14 June 2021, in response to the FAIR steering group’s work, the Government implemented changes that enable men who have sex with men in long-term relationships to give blood. These changes put in place a gender-neutral selection policy, where deferrals are now based on higher risk behaviours associated with acquiring infections.
Following further work by the FAIR steering group, I can announce that the Government will be making an additional change to the blood donor selection criteria, which will increase inclusivity without compromising the safety of donated blood.
As part of its work, the FAIR steering group reviewed the effectiveness of the question prospective donors are asked about whether they have recently had sex with a partner who may ever have had sex in an area where HIV is endemic—including most of sub-Saharan Africa. In reviewing the evidence, the steering group considered the other questions that are already on the pre-donation questionnaire that help to identify high-risk donors and the associated deferrals already in place, as well as the effect of routine screening of all donations for HIV and other blood-borne viruses. The FAIR steering group concluded that the question could be removed without impacting the safety of the blood supply. Furthermore, they determined that removing the question would help to improve inclusivity and equity for Black African donors. This is especially important due to the ongoing need for more Black African donors who can have rarer blood types, which will help to improve and save lives in the UK.
The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) reviewed the steering group’s findings and agreed that the removal of this question poses no additional safety risks to the blood supply and recommended the change was made to the pre-donation selection criteria.
The Government have now reviewed the evidence presented by the FAIR steering group together with SaBTO’s advice and has accepted this recommendation. This means that the question asking whether donors had recently had sex with a partner who may ever have had sex in an area where HIV is endemic will be removed from the blood donor selection criteria. This is a progressive and welcome step forward, reducing limitations for people to donate blood and creating a fairer system for blood donation.
The Department of Health and Social Care is working with NHS Blood and Transplant to implement this change. We will have monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of donors and patients, including continued monitoring of both acute and chronic infections in new and regular donors. The changes will be reviewed in 12 months.