Current Affairs Science

NHS blood donation rules to be relaxed for gay and bisexual men from summer 2021

In what has been described as a “landmark change” by the Health Secretary, there will be a relaxation of the rules surrounding NHS blood donation by gay and bisexual men. 

The changes, announced on Monday, follow the conclusions of the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group report.

From summer 2021, men who have sex with men (MSM) will be able to donate blood without restriction, provided they are in a long-term, monogamous relationship or have been with their current sexual partner for more than three months, regardless of the kind of intercourse involved. Individuals who have only engaged in oral sex will also be allowed to donate blood without restriction. 

Another important change that will be made is asking donors in a gender-neutral way about their sexual behaviour, with eligibility to donate not being impacted by the donor’s or their partner’s gender. This is alongside all donors completing the same health check prior to donation regardless of gender or sexuality, further improving the inclusivity of the NHS blood donation process.

However, the restrictions will remain that donors must have no known exposure to HIV. In particular, those taking PrEP or PEP (HIV-preventative medication) will still be unable to give blood, though the NHS Blood and Transplant website states that ‘if you stop taking PrEP or PEP, you will need to wait 3 months before you can give blood’. Some updates will be introduced for other sexual behaviours identified as ‘higher risk’, meaning individuals who have engaged in “chem sex” (the use of drugs before or during sex to enhance the experience) in the last three months, or those who have been treated for syphilis in the last twelve months, will also be unable to donate.

The change comes after almost a decade of changes to the rules surrounding NHS blood donation by gay and bisexual men. In 2011, a 12-month abstinence period (known as “deferral”) from both oral and anal sex was introduced, allowing MSM to donate blood but with heavy restrictions. 

This was reduced to a 3-month abstinence period in November 2017 following changes to the advice from SaBTO (Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs).

Oxford University LGBTQ Society and the Student Union have been contacted for comment.

Image credit: Arek Socha on Pixabay

Alice Gowland (she/her) is the current Science and Technology Editor for The Oxford Blue, and a Third Year Experimental Psychology student at Magdalen College. She is a cheerleader, peer supporter, and proud Northerner, with a passion for discussing topics within all spheres of science. To get in touch with her, please email alice.gowland@magd.ox.ac.uk.