Policy on gay men and blood donations

In England, Wales and Scotland the policy on gay men donating blood changed in November 2011. Prior to this, a man who had ever had sex with a man was banned for life from donating blood.

Under the new rules, men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago can donate, if they meet the other donor selection criteria.  Men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the past year, with or without a condom, are still not eligible to donate blood.

The policy was changed following an expert review.1 The review took into account the continued high prevalence of HIV in men who have sex with men, improvements in testing technologies leading to a shortening of the window period, the experience of other countries, people’s compliance with the current rules, ethical considerations and the reassuring findings of modelling studies on different policy options.

One reason given for excluding gay men who had sex in the past year (rather than a shorter time frame) is that gay men are also at higher risk for hepatitis B. A few months after infection, hepatitis B often gradually clears without treatment and cannot be detected by tests, but is still transmissible.

Under the new rules, the majority of gay men are still asked not to donate. Some campaigners believe that blood donations should only be refused after detailed questioning about an individual’s sexual behaviour, but this would probably be complex to administer, with many blood donors finding it intrusive.

In Northern Ireland, all men who have ever had sex with men are still asked not to donate blood, no matter how long ago the experience occurred.

Most countries continue to ask men who have had sex with men never to donate blood, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany and Ireland.

However a number of countries do allow men who have sex with men to donate, including Australia (one-year deferral period), New Zealand (five-year deferral period), South Africa (six months deferral) and Spain (six month deferral after changing partner).

References

  1. SaBTO (Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs) Donor selection criteria review, April 2011. Department of Health, www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_129909.pdf, 2011
This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
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This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.