UK to change eligibility to give blood on World Blood Donor Day with launch of new donor safety assessment

11 May 2021

Some of the questions that blood, plasma and platelet donors are asked to check their eligibility to donate will change from next month, marking an historic move to make blood donation more inclusive without affecting safety.

The changes will mean that eligibility to donate will be based on a more individualised assessment rather than on a risk assigned to a group or population, and deferrals will be based on behaviours evidenced to be at a higher risk of sexual infection.

From June 14 - World Blood Donor Day - the form that people complete before they donate will for the first time ask the same questions of all donors about sexual behaviours, focused mainly on the last three months.

Donors will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with another man. 

Instead, any individual who attends to give blood - regardless of gender - will be asked if they have had sex and, if so, about recent sexual behaviours. The process of giving blood will not change.

Minister for Blood Donation, Lord Bethell, said: “Today marks another significant step forward in our ambition to make blood donation policy fairer and more inclusive, allowing as many people as possible to make the life-saving decision to give blood safely.

“I want to thank members of the FAIR steering group, including LGBT charities, who have been instrumental in enabling us to get to this moment.

“I encourage everyone who is able to: register to donate.”

Under the changes people can donate if they have had the same sexual partner for the last three months, or if they have a new sexual partner with whom they have not had anal sex, and there is no known recent exposure to an STI or recent use of PrEP or PEP. This will mean more men who have sex with men will be eligible to donate.

Anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner or with multiple partners in the last three months will be not be able to give blood right now but may be eligible in the future. Donors who have been recently treated for gonorrhoea will be deferred. Anyone who has ever received treatment for syphilis will not be able to give blood.

Ella Poppitt, Chief Nurse for Blood Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do. This change is about switching around how we assess the risk of exposure to a sexual infection, so it is more tailored to the individual.

“We screen all donations for evidence of significant infections before they are sent to hospitals. Donation testing goes hand in hand with donor selection to maintain the safety of the blood supply. All donors will now be asked about recent sexual behaviours which might have increased their risk of acquiring an infection. This means some donors might not be eligible on the day but may be eligible to donate in the future.

“Our priority is to make sure that donors are able to answer the pre-donation questions in a setting that makes them feel comfortable and safe. Staff are receiving training to make sure these more personal conversations are conducted with care and sensitivity and accurate information is captured.

“We are notifying donors of the changes so they can consider the new questions before their appointment and are able to re-schedule if they do not meet the changed criteria to give blood right now. We want donation to be a positive experience and we are looking forward to welcoming donors as we move forward with these changes.”

The changes follow an evidence-based review by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group led by NHS Blood and Transplant which concluded that switching to an individualised, gender neutral approach is fairer while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.

FAIR concluded that the new donor selection system will maintain the UK’s status as one of the safest blood supplies in the world. The findings were accepted in full by the government last December.

Data around the impact of the donor selection changes will be kept under review and assessed 12 months after implementation to determine if changes are needed. Feedback from donors, LGBT+ individuals, patients and representatives will be a key consideration in this review.

Become a blood donor. Register today and book and appointment by calling 0300 123 23 23, downloading the GiveBloodNHS app, or register online. Appointments from June 14 onwards are available to book.

You can also donate plasma for antibody medicines that are used to save the lives of people with rare immune diseases - potential plasma donors should call 0300 123 23 23.

FAIR steering group quotes

Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "It’s great to see these changes to blood donation eligibility being brought in from next month. We’ve always been clear that the safety of the blood supply is the priority here. This change to a more individualised risk assessment is in line with the latest scientific evidence while also allowing as many people as possible to safely donate blood."

Ethan Spibey, founder of FreedomToDonate, said: “We have campaigned on updating the blood donation rules for gay and bi men for over six years, believing an individualised policy based on risk was a fairer and more inclusive solution. The changes that come into effect in June represent a fundamental step change to assess risk regardless of sexuality, and will ensure the UK has one of the world’s fairest and safest blood donation policies, which we believe will lead the way globally to ensure more people than ever before can donate.”

Nancy Kelley (she/her), Chief Executive of Stonewall, said: “We support a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely. By linking donor eligibility to health, travel and sexual activity with an individualised assessment of risk, these changes will help ensure more people, including gay and bi men, can donate blood.”

Kat Smithson, Director of Policy at National AIDS Trust, said: “From 14 June more gay and bisexual men will be able to donate blood safely because of changes to eligibility based on a more individualised assessment of risk. We participated in the FAIR steering group which made recommendations that led to these changes and we’re delighted they’re being brought in next month. We’ve long campaigned for an eligibility process that ensures more people can give blood safely, is fair, and is based on the latest science.

 “This is only a first step in achieving a more inclusive approach and we now want to see other exclusionary criteria reviewed urgently to ensure donors are being asked questions that successfully identify higher risk, without unnecessarily excluding people or groups. The ongoing lifetime exclusion for anyone who has ever injected drugs is one example.”