Restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men to be eased next year

Men who have sex with men currently have to wait one year before giving blood

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) is set to reduce the time gay and bisexual men have to wait after sexual contact with other men before they can donate blood.

From March 2022, men who have sex with men (MSM) will be permitted to give blood four months after their last sexual contact with a man, down from the current one year deferral time.

Previously, the IBTS had a lifelong deferral for MSM, but this was changed to a one-year deferral in the last five years.

The policy changes, announced on Wednesday, will be introduced in two phases, with the initial phase introduced by the end of March 2022 and the second phase introduced later that year.

The four-month wait time from March is an "interim measure", the Department of Health said, while the IBTS introduces new technology to replace the existing paper health and lifestyle questionnaire with an electronic questionnaire known as the self-assessment health history.

This will enable phase two, the introduction of an individual assessment process for donors, thus making blood donation more inclusive, the department added.

The deferral of any person who is taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a HIV prevention drug, will also be reduced from 12 months to four months, under the new changes.

This deferral will remain in place after the introduction of the individual assessment, according to the department.

‘Significant move’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he is delighted to welcome the "significant move" which removes the barriers to blood donation that currently exist for MSM.

“To be a blood donor is to give a wonderful, life-saving and life-preserving gift to a person in their time of urgent need,” he added.

The policy changes are to be introduced following a report by an independent advisory group to the IBTS board, which was chaired by Prof Mary Horgan.

HIV Ireland has welcomed the changes to the criteria for blood donation, stating that it will put an end to the "discriminatory deferral period".

Adam Shanley, HIV Ireland's Mpower programme manager, said the decision acknowledges that a 12-month deferral policy is "not appropriate policy for donor selection".

“The expected move to individualised risk-based assessments will mean that gay and bisexual men who wish to give blood can do so knowing that they will not be precluded based solely on sexual orientation but will be subject to the same selection criteria as everyone else,” he added.

The organisation said the policy change will ensure both the safety of the blood supply and the welcome increase in donations from previously excluded groups.

The announcement from the IBTS comes a day after it announced it would need to import blood from the UK for the second time this year due to a supply shortage.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times