Medical practice

Blood donor ban lifted for men who have sex with men

The long-standing ban preventing men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood is to be lifted, the Department of Health has announced.

Restrictions put in place in the 1980s stated that men should be permanently excluded from blood donation if they had ever had oral or anal sex with another man, even if a condom was used. However, as of November 7 2011 they will be eligible to give blood as long as they have not had anal or oral sex with a man in the past 12 months and meet the other general donor selection criteria. The changes will apply to England, Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland.

The changes were made based on the results of an extensive evidence review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO). This considered:

  • the risk of infection being transmitted in blood
  • attitudes to compliance with the donor selection criteria
  • improvements in testing of donated blood

The SaBTO committee says the evidence now available "no longer support[s] the permanent exclusion of men who have had sex with men". The committee recommended that the criteria be brought into line with those for other groups at raised risk of infection associated with sexual behaviours, who the 12-month waiting period also applies to. 

Discussing the changes, Sir Nick Partridge, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said “We welcome this decision, which is based on strong new evidence that all the experts are agreed on. These regulations will ensure the safety of the blood supply for all of us while also being fair and equal in their application. We can now detect blood-borne viruses earlier and have more understanding of them, and the change reflects that".

Further information on the changes is available from NHS Blood and Transplant and the Department of Health.

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