NHS report reveals no change in blood safety since allowing gay and bi men to donate

A report has shown no evidence of issues since more gay and bi men became able to donate blood.

There has been no impact on safety since UK rules changed to permit gay and bisexual men to donate blood, a NHS report has revealed. 

Findings from the Safe Supplies 2022: monitoring safety in donors and recipients report, produced jointly by NHS Blood and Transplant and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), show there has been no impact on UK blood safety since rules surrounding donating changed in 2021.

According to the report, the residual risk of blood contaminated with a newly acquired hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV infection being released into the UK supply remained at less than one in a million.

The number of infections in donors remained low overall, and, where blood donations had markers of infection, the donors responded well to the For the Assessment of Individualised Risk (FAIR) questions about their sexual behaviour.

The report’s findings were described as “really encouraging” and a form of “reassurance of safety for recipients across the UK”, by Dr Su Brailsford, NHS Blood and Transplant’s interim clinical director of microbiology and public health, and the chairwoman of the FAIR steering group.

”As always, we are grateful to the donors who help save and improve recipient lives every year,” she added.

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Katy Davison, a UKHSA epidemiologist, said: “We are able to show there are still very few infections in donors, and transmissions to recipients are rare. But we continue to keep a close eye on the impact of FAIR and gather evidence for future reviews of the policy.”

A separate study also published this year, the Serious Hazards of Transfusion report, found there were zero confirmed cases of transfusion-transmitted hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV during 2022.

In December 2020, the British government announced that it would bin the ban – first fully instigated in 1980 during the HIV/Aids crisis – on gay and bisexual men donating blood. In June 2021, rules surrounding blood donation were changed. Before then, men could not donate within three months of sexual contact with another man.

Now, any men who have sex with men and are in monogamous long-term relationships, or have been with their sexual partner for more than three months, can donate blood.

Donors are also asked questions about past sexually transmitted infections and any drug use during sex.

Ethan Spibey, the founder of pressure group FreedomToDonate, said at the time of the rule change: “We welcome a pioneering new policy and are immensely proud that more people than ever will be able to fairly give the life-saving gift of blood.

“Simply being a man who has sex with men is not a good enough reason to exclude someone from donating blood.”

In the US, an overhaul of regulations is set to take place by early next year, with the Food and Drug Administration proposing recommendations to ease restrictions on donations from sexually active gay men.

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