The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) will soon be starting to assess donor eligibility on a person-by-person basis instead of applying across-the-board restrictions which have previously excluded potential donors. Using a donor’s individual experiences to determine whether that person is eligible to donate makes the process fairer for all donors and means more people will be able to give blood than ever before.
It also means we will be asking every donor the same questions – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
These changes to the way UK blood services assess the risk of transfusion transmitted infections incorporate the key recommendations of the 2020 FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) Report. The recommendations were designed by epidemiology, sexual health and infectious disease experts to make sure we keep the blood supply safe while making blood donation fairer and more accessible to all. NIBTS are working in collaboration with Rainbow Project to ensure all those eligible to donate blood can do so safely.
What will these new questions be?
You will have to complete a Donation Health Check and will be asked whether, over the last three months, you have:
- Had sex with anyone who has had syphilis, hepatitis or anyone who is HIV positive?
- Been given money or drugs for sex?
- Had sex with anyone who has ever been given money or drugs for sex?
- Had sex with anyone who has ever injected drugs?
- Taken Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) / Truvada for prevention of HIV or taken or been prescribed Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for prevention of HIV?
- Taken part in Chemsex (Chemsex is defined as sexual activity, often in groups, under the influence of stimulant drugs, excluding cannabis, alcohol and Viagra, to enhance sexual experience). This risk applies for all sexual contact.
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then you are unable to give blood right now.
If you answered no to all of the questions above, you may be able to give blood if you meet our other eligibility criteria.
In addition, you will also be asked whether, over the last three months, you have:
- Had sex with a new partner, or had sex with more than one partner?
If you answer yes to this question, you will then be asked if you had anal sex with any of your sexual partners.
- If you have, you will not be able to donate for three months.
- If you have not, you will be able to donate (subject to all other eligibility criteria).
Why are we making these changes?
The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs - which advises UK health departments – has recommended changes to the criteria around who can give blood after examining the latest evidence relating to blood donation and sexual behaviour presented by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group.
Patient safety is the heart of everything we do. Switching to an individualised check is a fairer and as safe a way to spot infection.
The changes mean many gay, bi-men and men who have sex with men in a long-term relationship will now be able to donate blood at any time.
We will keep working with and listening to donors, LGBT+ donors, patients and representatives to make sure donation is a positive experience for them.
What will we do with the information you give us?
We keep a record of all donors, donations and test results. We use this information to:
- keep donors and patients safe.
- let you know when and where to donate.
- get in touch about any problems.
- improve our service.
- check we are meeting our standards.
The information you give us is not linked to any other NHS or clinical records. All our staff are trained in confidentiality, and personal information is kept secure and only shared with other organisations if needed to deliver our service. We are required to keep information about donors and donations for at least 30 years. You can find out more, including information about your rights, on the NIBTS Data Privacy page or in our Donor Privacy Notice.
Over the coming months in readiness for the implementation of these recommendations on 6th September 2021 these new questions will be added to eligibility questionnaire new and existing donors complete prior to their donation.
We realise that being asked about specific sexual practices is something you may not be used to or find embarrassing. However, we hope you will understand the need for these questions and answer them completely honestly as this is very important in maintaining the safety of the blood supply.
The FAIR recommendations
Current deferral decisions are based on how donors answer our donor health check questionnaire. FAIR looked at how to improve this process to ensure a fair and safe screening system for everyone.
FAIR carried out a review to understand the highest risk sexual behaviours for acquiring blood-borne sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They also identified methods for asking donors about their sexual behaviour in a gender-neutral way.
The guidance for any new regulations will be set out by the Joint United Kingdom (UK) Blood Transfusion and Tissue Transplantation Services Professional Advisory Committee (JPAC).
What is the FAIR steering group?
The UK blood services (which includes NHS Blood and Transplant), Public Health England, Nottingham University and a range of stakeholders including LGBT+ groups are working together in the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group.
The aim of the FAIR steering group has been to explore if a more individualised risk assessment approach to blood donor selection policy is possible whilst ensuring the safe supply of blood to patients.
FAIR membership includes representatives from the four UK blood services (NHS Blood and Transplant, Scotblood, the Welsh Blood Service and the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service), Public Health England, Nottingham University, the National Aids Trust (NAT), Stonewall, Freedom to Donate, Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), and includes experts in epidemiology, virology and psychology and other key stakeholders.