A recent report by NHS Blood and Transplant, in collaboration with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has revealed that there has been no impact on blood safety in the UK since rules were changed in 2021 to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood. The findings from the “Safe Supplies 2022: monitoring safety in donors and recipients” report indicate that the risk of blood contaminated with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV infection being released into the UK blood supply remains extremely low, at less than one in a million.
The report also highlights that the number of infections among donors remains low overall, and when markers of infection were found in blood donations, donors responded positively to the Assessment of Individualised Risk (FAIR) questions regarding their sexual behavior. Dr. Su Brailsford, NHS Blood and Transplant’s interim clinical director of microbiology and public health, described the report’s findings as “really encouraging” and a source of “reassurance of safety for recipients across the UK.”
Katy Davison, a UKHSA epidemiologist, emphasized the rarity of infections in donors and transmissions to recipients. She mentioned the ongoing monitoring of the impact of FAIR and the gathering of evidence for future policy reviews.
The change in rules in the UK occurred in response to the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, which was initially instituted during the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1980. Before the rule change in June 2021, men who had sex with men were prohibited from donating blood within three months of sexual contact with another man. The revised policy allows 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 to donate blood, with additional questions about past sexually transmitted infections and drug use during sex.
This report reinforces the importance of equitable access to blood donation and the safety measures in place to protect both donors and recipients. In the US, there are ongoing efforts to revise regulations around blood donation from sexually active gay men, with potential changes proposed by the Food and Drug Administration expected by early next year.