Men who have sex with men blood donor controversy in the United Kingdom

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A Donation Not Discrimination protester at the University of Nottingham.

The MSM blood donor controversy in the United Kingdom refers to the indefinite deferral policy of men who have had sex with men (MSM) in Northern Ireland, as well as the policy of the National Blood Service in the rest of the United Kingdom not to accept donations of blood from men who have had sex with men in the previous year, regardless of whether condom(s) were used during sex. The National Blood Service have argued that this policy is necessary in order to protect public health and minimise the spread of transmittable diseases such as HIV. However, the policy been criticised as being discriminatory towards gay men. The policy has been adopted based on the scientific advice of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs and has been kept under regular review, with the latest change (moving from a lifetime ban to a one year ban) which happened in September 2011. The ban is opposed by groups such as the LGBT campaign of the National Union of Students in the UK.

2011 Change[edit]

Blood donation policies for men who have sex with men
  Men who have sex with men may donate blood; No deferral
  Men who have sex with men may donate blood; Temporary deferral
  Men who have sex with men may not donate blood; Permanent deferral1
  No Data
1No restriction in Israel and the United States of America if last MSM activity was before 1977.

In September 2011 it was reported that the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) would move from a lifetime ban to a one year ban.[1]

The gay rights group Stonewall said the move was a "step in the right direction".[2] However, a spokesperson pointed to the fact that high-risk heterosexuals would still be less controlled than low-risk gay men: "A gay man in a monogamous relationship who has only had oral sex will still automatically be unable to give blood but a heterosexual man who has had multiple partners and not worn a condom will not be questioned about his behaviour, or even then, excluded.".[2] The Independent, a UK newspaper, reported that Andy Wasley, editor in chief of So So Gay magazine, called for "more precise selection criteria" to be used in identifying high-risk potential donors.[3]

It was not clear how much the total amount of blood donated would change following this change, Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, is quoted as saying it is impossible to say how many men would actually be able to start donating blood, as "the vast majority of gay men are still (sexually) active".[2]


Arguments in favour of the ban include that MSM ('Men who have had sex with Men') are at the greatest risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis[4] and at a far greater risk than the heterosexual population. It is also argued that it is not feasible to take a detailed sexual history of every MSM who donates blood as the National Blood Service takes over 7,000 donations of blood per day and that if the lifelong ban was lifted there is a chance some infected blood could go undetected because of the window period between infection and detection.

Arguments that have been made against the ban include: it discriminates against gay men in monogamous relationships and who practise safe sex and undertake regular HIV tests;[4] it does not cover promiscuous heterosexuals and as such is discriminatory;[4] it risks gay men who do not agree with the policy donating blood anyway.[4]

MSM blood donor policies by region[edit]

Region Deferral for MSM Ref(s)
 Great Britain 1 year [1]
 Northern Ireland Indefinite [5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Donor selection criteria review". Department of Health. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  2. ^ a b c Gallagher, James (2011-09-08). "BBC News - Gay men blood donor ban to be lifted". Retrieved 2011-09-21. 
  3. ^ "Lifetime ban on gay men donating blood is lifted - Health News, Health & Families". The Independent. 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2011-09-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Give Blood - Exclusion of Men who have Sex with Men from Blood Donation". NHS Blood and Transplant. Retrieved 2011-09-13. 
  5. ^ "UK Government refuses to repeal Northern Ireland gay blood ban". 2014-01-03. Retrieved 2014-03-04.