Changes to blood donation rules

By agency reporter
November 30, 2017

The rules on blood donation in England changed on 28 November 2017. The changes, announced by the government in July, were recommended by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) who had reviewed blood donor criteria related to risk behaviours. They give more people the opportunity to donate blood without affecting the safety of the blood supply.

Dr Gail Miflin, Medical and Research Director at NHS Blood and Transplant said, “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”

Before every donation, all donors must complete a Donor Health Check and have a private health screening where they may be asked confidential questions based on their completed form. Although all donated blood is tested, there is a period of time following contact with any infection when it would not be detected by our screening tests.

Blood donation works on the values of kindness and mutual trust. It is vital that all potential and existing donors keep to the blood donor selection rules by giving completely accurate answers to all the questions asked confidentially at donation sessions, both for the protection of their own health and that of the patients who receive transfusions.

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) will be able to donate after three months have passed since the last sexual activity.

Previously, commercial sex workers were permanently excluded from blood donation and the other groups had to wait until 12 months had passed before they could donate. The rules are now consistent for all groups that are deferred due to sexual behaviours.

Liam Beattie, Blood Donations Policy Lead at Terrence Higgins Trust, said, "We are pleased that the decision from July has been swiftly implemented, and that the new rules in place from today will enable more people to give blood, while maintaining the safety of the blood supply. We hope this paves the way for more progress as further evidence becomes available, and we’re now urging the government to continue to regularly review the deferral periods in line with the latest evidence. It will now be vital for those who are now eligible to donate blood to be made aware of these changes.”

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, NAT (National AIDS Trust), said, "It’s great to see the new blood donation rules going live, enabling gay men to donate three months from their last sexual activity (as opposed to the previous 12 months) as well as also shortening the deferral period for other groups who were previously permanently deferred. This means more people can donate blood, the blood supply remains totally safe and the rules are based on up-to-date evidence. We look forward to working further with NHS Blood and Transplant as they explore the potential for further personalisation of donation rules for gay men."

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive Officer at Stonewall, said, "We’re pleased to see the Government and NHS Blood and Transplant respond to the Freedom to Donate campaign in such a promising way. Reducing the deferral period makes it easier for gay and bi men who want to donate blood and that’s an important step forward. However, there’s still work to do, as many gay and bi men will still be excluded from donating. To avoid this, we’d like to see the introduction of an individualised risk assessment of blood donors, which would allow more people to donate safely, regardless of their sexual orientation. We will continue to work with the Government and other organisations to create a fairer system for gay and bi men who want to donate blood."

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. Currently there is very little data on effective ways of carrying out such risk assessments. The initial scoping, evidence gathering and testing may take up to two years to complete to allow other international work to be considered.

These changes came into effect in Scotland and Wales a day earlier, on 27 November 2017.

* NHS Blood and Transplant


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