Community: New rules on giving blood are welcomed

The permanent exclusion of men who have sex with men from donating blood is lifted from today, Monday, and replaced by a 12 month fixed period of deferral from the last relevant sexual contact.

The move being implemented by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) at blood donor sessions across England and North Wales is also being put into practice by the blood services serving South Wales and Scotland.

The changes, announced in September by the Department of Health, followed a recommendation by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO), who had carried out an evidence based review of the donor criteria.

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All blood donors are asked to complete a questionnaire. Regular donors will notice some changes to the questions, reflecting the new guidelines. Adherence to the donor selection criteria is vital to protect the health of both donors and patients. Blood is tested, but as no test is 100 per cent reliable, it is important that donors answer the questions accurately.

The questionnaire has been changed so that the question regarding sex between men determines whether a potential donor is a man who has had anal or oral sex with a man in the past 12 months (even with a condom), rather than ever in their lifetime.

If a potential donor answers ‘yes’ to any question that could suggest they are at an increased risk of carrying blood-borne infections they will be asked to speak in confidence to a registered nurse.

Men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the previous 12 months, will be asked not to donate until 12 months have passed since this contact, to reduce the risk of infections being missed by testing and then being passed on to a patient.

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Speaking about the changes, Dr Lorna Williamson, NHS Blood and Transplant’s medical and research director said: “Our priority as a blood service is to provide a safe and sufficient supply of blood for patients. This change gives us an opportunity to broaden our donor acceptance on the basis of the latest scientific evidence.

“The SaBTO review concluded that the safety of the blood supply would not be affected by the change and we would like to reassure patients receiving transfusions that the blood supply is as safe as it reasonably can be and amongst the safest in the world. There has been no documented transmission of a blood-borne virus in the UK since 2005, with no HIV transmission since 2002.”

Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), said: “We welcome this change, 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.