UK Allows More Gay and Bisexual Men to Donate Blood

On Blood Donor Day, 14 June 2021, the UK Department of Health and Social Care announced the possibility for gay and bisexual men to give blood, platelets, and plasma, if they had the same sexual partner for more than three months, have not been in contact with STIs, and do not take HIV treatment drugs.

Up to now, gay and bisexual men were not allowed to donate blood if they had sexual intercourse with another man within three months prior to the donation date. Based on research by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group, the UK Department of Health and Social Care changed the process of assessing donor eligibility to make it gender-neutral and rather behaviour-dependent than based on the sexuality of the donor. 

“We welcome this historic change, which will help to ensure more gay and bi men can donate blood and represents an important step towards a donation selection policy entirely based on an individualised assessment of risk,” explained Robbie de Santos, the director of Communications and External Affairs for Stonewall. “We want to see a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely and will continue to work with the Government to build on this progress to ensure that more people, including LGBT+ people, can donate blood safely in the future.”

The FAIR steering group consists of a collaboration of the UK blood services (NHS Blood, Scotblood, Welsh Blood Service, and Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Services), Public Health England, Nottingham University, the National Aids Trust (NAT), Stonewall, FreedomToDonate, the Terrence Higgs Trust (THT), and experts in epidemiology, virology, and psychology, amongst further key stakeholders. 

About two years ago, the UK government asked FAIR to conduct evidence-based research looking into the sexual behaviours that could be an effective measure to assess the individual risk of sexually transmitted infections, which may be passed on through blood donation. As a result, they identified methods to question possible donors in a gender-neutral way prior to donating.

“The new guidance means we can now assess your eligibility to give blood based on solely your own individual experiences, making the process fairer for everyone,” the organisation states on their website.

The new method is based on the donor’s health, travel, and (sexual) behaviours, and for the first time ever, everyone will be asked the same questions, no matter their gender or sexuality, lifting a blanket ban for any gay and bi men who were sexually involved with men in the last three months. The biggest change is that anyone who had the same sexual partner for more than three months is now eligible to donate blood.

Exclusion criteria remain exposure to STIs or the use of drugs to treat HIV. Further, male donors will no longer be asked to declare if they did or did not have sex with another man to ensure gender-neutrality allowing for the most inclusive experience yet. 

“After many years of campaigning and working with the UK’s blood services, we are delighted that this change is now coming into effect,” Ethan Spibey, the founder of FreedomToDonate, explains. “This is more than just about a fairer and more inclusive system, it’s about those who rely on blood, and giving blood literally saves lives. I would encourage anyone who is able to safely donate blood to register to do so.”