Why we ask men who have sex with men not to give blood
A guide for donors
the safety of the national blood supply is our number one priority. We
follow strict rules and regulations when collecting and processing blood
to make sure we supply the safest possible blood.
We use two main strategies to keep blood donation as safe as possible.
- Selecting ‘safe’ donors
- Testing every donation
‘safe’ donors means that we have to ask some people not to donate their
blood. This includes all men who have had sex with other men.
Principles of selecting donors
are over 450 rules guiding donor selection and there are many groups of
people who we ask not to donate either for a short period or forever.
people in these groups may have a very low risk of blood-borne
infections and their blood would probably be safe to give to patients,
but it is safest to ask everyone within the groups that have been
identified, not to give blood.
request can be disappointing and frustrating to some people who wish to
donate blood. Our decisions are based on information and research about
the effects our policies will have on ensuring the safest blood supply
possible, not out of a desire to discriminate against any particular
The aims of selecting donors are to:
- select donors whose blood, as far as we can tell, is most unlikely to transmit any infection
- collect enough blood to meet patients’ needs.
- make sure that donors themselves come to no harm through giving blood.
We have to balance these three aims while also keeping the selection process clear and simple.
Why do we ask men who have sex with men not to give blood?
ask men who have sex with men not to give blood because men who have
sex with men, as a group, are known to be at an increased risk of
acquiring HIV and a number of other sexually transmitted infections
(STIs), many of which are carried in the blood.
is specific behaviours, rather than being a man who has sex with men,
which places men who have sex with men at increased risk of HIV
infection.Safer sex will keep most men who have sex with men free from
infection,however research shows that allowing men who have sex with men
as a group to donate blood would increase the risk of HIV infected
blood entering the blood supply.
Testing does not detect all infections
test all blood donations for HIV, hepatitis B and C , syphilis and
HTLV. However, no testing process can be ‘perfect’. We may miss infected
donations because of the ‘window period’ between getting an infection
and the test showing a positive result. There is also always a small
risk of mistakes being made in the laboratory.
donors that are already in a low-risk group for these infections means
that we will reduce the number of infected donations that could be
missed by testing.
How the rule improves the safety of blood transfusions
men who have sex with men have not given blood since the AIDS epidemic
began, and this has prevented many HIV infections being transmitted
through transfusion. Also, the number of hepatitis B infections
transmitted by blood transfusion fell considerably after this rule was
Abolishing the rule for men
who have sex with men would increase the risk of HIV infected donations
entering the blood supply in England by about five times , and changing
the rule to allow men who have sex with men to donate one year after
they last had sex with another man would increase the risk by 60%.
(Reference: Soldan, K.; Sinka, K. Vox Sanguinis, Volume 84, Number 4,
May 2003 , pp. 265-273(9)).
Keeping our rules simple
rule about men who have sex with men is clear and simple. You can
decide whether it applies to you without the need to discuss your
personal life with our staff. The rule is based on an impartial
assessment of available evidence. We ask that you observe it for the
sake of blood safety.
who are asked not to donate blood are entitled to a clear explanation
as to why. If you would like more information than is contained in this
leaflet, please see our contacts list.