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Blood Donation

Volume 686: debated on Monday 14 December 2020

I would like to inform the House that the Government, along with the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Government, will be updating the blood donor selection criteria. This move will enable men who have sex with men in a long-term relationship to give blood from summer 2021.

In 2011, the lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men was lifted following an evidence-based review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO). This introduced a deferral period of 12 months for men who have sex with men since their last sexual contact with another man. In 2017, the UK reduced this period to three months. These changes did not impact the safety of the blood supply in the UK.

Since then, the Government have taken steps to explore if further changes can be made to the deferral period for men who have sex with men, without risking the safety of the blood supply. At the request of the Department of Health and Social Care, the ‘For Assessment of Individualised Risk’ (FAIR) steering group was established at the beginning of 2019. The group reviewed whether the UK Blood Services could move to a more individualised blood donor selection policy.

The steering group reported to SaBTO in October 2020, advising that a more individualised risk-based approach to the blood donor selection policy could be taken without risking the safety of the blood supply. SaBTO reviewed the report and formally recommended that the Government implement the changes proposed by the FAIR steering group.

The Government have accepted this recommendation. This will mean a change to the current three-month deferral period for all men who have sex with men to a gender-neutral selection policy, where deferrals are based on higher-risk behaviours associated with acquiring infections.

This policy change will mean that anyone who has had the same sexual partner in the last three months will be eligible to donate and men who have sex with men will no longer be asked to declare if they have had sex with another man, making the criteria for blood donation gender-neutral and more inclusive.

This is a progressive and welcome step forward, reducing limitations for men who have sex with men to donate blood and creating a fairer system for blood donation. In implementing these changes, the UK will take on a world-leading role as one of the first countries to recognise that a risk-based approach for men who have sex with men does not pose a safety risk to blood donation.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working with NHS Blood and Transplant and devolved administrations to implement changes which we anticipate will be rolled out by summer 2021. 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.

The report from the FAIR steering group can be viewed here at: /news-and-statements/fair-steering-group.