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Scientific review offers chance for more people to give blood

The Government has today announced changes to the rules on blood donation in England.

23 July 2017

The Government has today announced changes to the rules on blood donation in England. This follows a review of blood donor criteria related to risk behaviours by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs who advise UK ministers and health departments.

Speaking after the announcement of the changes, Dr Gail Miflin, Medical and Research Director at NHS Blood and Transplant said:

“NHS Blood and Transplant welcomes the Government’s decision to amend the rules related to blood donation related to specific activities. These changes will offer more people the chance to give blood.

“They take into account the latest available medical and scientific evidence and will not affect the safety of the blood supply. This included more information now available 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”

NHS Blood and Transplant is working towards make these changes happen, but to do this it’s important that the staff who work with blood donors receive the guidance and training they need to bring in these changes at blood donor sessions. It is also necessary to modify the IT system and amend donor health check forms and information for donors in leaflets and online.

Implementation of some of the changes across England will happen in early 2018. Until then, the existing rules will continue to apply.

The changes announced by the Government mean that the rules are consistent for all groups that are deferred due to sexual behaviours.

Subject to meeting the other donation rules, men who have had specific sexual activity* with another man; commercial sex workers and people who have sex with partners in groups known to have a high risk of having an infection that could be passed on during sex (high risk partners) are able to donate after three months have passed since the last sexual activity.

Alex Phillips, Blood Donations Policy Lead at Terrence Higgins Trust, said:

“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.”

NHS Blood and Transplant is committed to exploring ways that a more personalised risk assessment to allow more people to donate blood without impacting on blood safety could be introduced. This will be undertaken in collaboration with the other UK blood services and also involve key stakeholders.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, NAT (National AIDS Trust), said:

“We warmly welcome these changes to the blood donation rules, which are based on the latest scientific evidence. It’s a huge advance for gay and bisexual men to be able to donate three months from their last sexual activity - and we are delighted that NHS Blood and Transplant have said they will now go on to investigate how possible it is for some gay men, depending on degree of risk, to donate without even the three-month deferral.

“As important is the end to the permanent exclusion of sex workers, which was not scientifically justified, and the recommendation to also end the permanent exclusion of people who have injected drugs, which would need to be enacted through legislation. We are pleased to see a reform for which we have campaigned for many years.”

Currently there is very little data on effective ways of carrying out such risk assessments. Work will be required to collect evidence to enable suitable effective and acceptable questions to be designed and tested before these can be routinely introduced. The initial scoping, evidence gathering and testing may take up to two years to complete to allow other international work to be considered. 


*This refers to men who have oral or anal sex with men

For further information contact Penny Richardson on 0151 268 7033/ 07808 906300 or NHS Blood and Transplant press office on 01923 367600 or pressoffice@nhsbt.nhs.uk. For out of hours enquiries: 0117 969 2444

Changes to Blood Donor Selection Criteria

Changes to Blood Donor Selection Criteria

Notes to editors

  • NHS Blood and Transplant is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. We are responsible for ensuring a safe and efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England. We are also the organ donation organisation for the UK and are responsible for matching and allocating donated organs.
  • We are an essential part of the NHS and take pride in saving and improving lives by making the most of every voluntary donation, from blood and organs to tissues and stem cells.
  • Our work would not be possible without our donors - ordinary people doing extraordinary things by saving and improving the lives of others.
  • To find out more visit: www.nhsbt.nhs.uk
  • Follow us on social media
  • Twitter: @NHSBT
  • Facebook: www.facebook.com/nhsbloodandtransplant
  • Blood donors can search for sessions, book appointments, change/cancel their appointments and change their contact details in real time at www.blood.co.uk
  • There are apps available for Android, Windows and Apple Smartphone and tablet devices which enable donors to search for sessions based on their location and book and manage appointments.
  • Our donor line - 0300 123 23 23 - is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with all calls charged at the standard local rate, even from mobile phones
  • NHS Blood and Transplant needs to collect 1.5 million units of blood each year to meet the needs of patients across England. It’s important that we collect the right amount of each blood group at the right time to meet patient needs. 
  • There are four main blood groups – O, A, B and AB. Group O is the most common and therefore the most in demand. A regular supply of blood is vital – red cells last 35 days and platelets only 7 days.
  • If you’re already a blood donor, you could become a dedicated platelet donor at one of our 22 dedicated donor centres. We particularly need platelet donors with the A negative and AB negative blood groups. One platelet donation can help up to three adults or twelve babies or children. Visit platelets.blood.co.uk
  • The overall demand for blood is falling by 3-4% per year.  This is due to improvements in clinical practice and is a trend that is being seen around the world. The drop in demand for blood is also thanks to our work with hospitals to ensure blood is used appropriately for patients.
  • We need nearly 200,000 new blood donors each year to replace those who no longer donate for reasons such as ill health, pregnancy or foreign travel and to ensure we have the right mix of blood groups to match patient needs in the future
  • Some blood groups, such as O negative (the universal blood group), A negative and B negative are particularly vulnerable to shortfalls. So we want people with those blood groups to donate as regularly as they can.  We also need more black African, black Caribbean, mixed race and South Asian people to become blood donors to reflect the ethnic diversity of patients
  • Female whole blood donors can give blood every 16 weeks, while male blood donors must wait 12 weeks between donations. Platelets can be donated every 2 weeks.