Easier Blood Donation

At the start of December the deferral blood donation period for men who have sex with men was reduced from 12 months to three months. The change also affects their female partners, who were previously subject to a bar lasting more than 12 months but which is now cut to the same 3 month window.

It’s been brought forward sooner than expected, having originally been tabled for Spring 2018. Dr Gail Miflin, Medical and Research Director at NHS Blood and Transplant said when the change came into effect:

“The SaBTO* review took into account the latest available medical and scientific evidence. This included more information about the risk of acquiring infections that can be passed on in blood, more evidence on how well donors comply with our guidelines and also more evidence that supports the reliability of the blood screening tests we use.

“We have one of the safest blood supplies in the world. Anyone may require a blood transfusion in the future and so it’s in all our interests to ensure that we work hard to keep blood safe for patients.
“This starts with selection of donors before they give blood. Everyone must answer questions on their health and lifestyle before they donate and answering these questions correctly is crucial, in order to keep blood safe”

The announcement of the change was made in July, when the government noted that this move would increase the supply of donor blood available for life-saving operations.

As important for many people is that it further rolls back what had been a lifetime ban introduced in a panic as HIV/AIDS hit public consciousness in the 1980s. That remained in place until it was reduced to a 12 month limit in November 2011.

Alex Phillips, Blood Donations Policy Lead at Terrence Higgins Trust, commented in July 2017 when the plans to reduce the 12 month limit were announced:

“We welcome these evidence-based changes to the UK’s blood donation regulations. This will enable more people to give blood, while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.

“We’re pleased that the lifetime ban on former and current sex workers has been lifted, and the deferral period is now in line with other deferrals based on sexual behaviour. We know from our research that the majority of sex workers take great care of their sexual health, with 98% of sex workers we asked rating their sexual health as very important, 76% having a sexual health check up every three months, and 98% knowing their HIV status.

“Medical evidence is, of course, constantly and quickly being updated, so it’s important that the deferral periods are regularly reviewed in line with the latest evidence. We therefore hope that today’s changes will pave the way for more progress as further evidence becomes available.”

The original lifetime ban was a product of a time when detecting the virus was impossible or had a long lead time, and when treatment regimes were non-existent or much more harsh than they are today, the lifetime ban made sense.

We’ve moved a long way since then and it has come to be seen more as a symbol of discrimination, of the 1980s notion that bi and gay men are dangerous and diseased. At the same time changes need to be made in an evidence-based way in response to the changes in detection and how the epidemiology of HIV has proven different to what was feared in the early days.


* Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs