Gay and bisexual men can now donate blood in England, Scotland and Wales.
The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) announced Monday that it has changed its eligibility requirements, which now allow more men who have sex with men to donate blood, platelets and plasma.
The NHS says the historic change was made, in part, to be more inclusive, while also keeping blood just as safe.
Eligibility in those countries is now based on individual circumstances surrounding health, travel, and sexual behaviors evidenced to be at a higher risk of sexual infection.
Blood donors will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with another man, removing the element of assessment that is based on the previous population-based risks, according to the NHS.
Instead, officials say any individual who attends to give blood, regardless of gender, will be asked if they have had sex and, if so, about recent sexual behaviors. Anyone who has had the same sexual partner for the last three months will be eligible to donate.
The process of giving blood will not change.
Under the changes, people can donate if they have had the same sexual partner for the last three months, or if they have a new sexual partner with whom they have not had anal sex, and there is no known recent exposure to an STI or recent use of PrEP or PEP. This will mean more men who have sex with men will be eligible to donate.
The change in the U.K. comes at a time when blood donations are needed more than ever. Amid the pandemic, blood donations have been historically low in several countries, including the U.S., where the ability for gay and bisexual men to donate blood is still restricted.
Although the FDA relaxed its restrictions last year on gay men being allowed to donate, the agency’s current policy still says men who have had sex with another man in the last three months can’t donate. Previously, those such donors were asked to wait 12 months before giving blood. These policies have been in place since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s.
Just Monday, the America Red Cross said a rise in the number of trauma cases, organ transplants and elective surgeries requiring blood products over recent months has depleted the nation’s blood inventory. It’s pleading with those eligible to donate to do so.
The Red Cross says it's also working to widen the ability for gay and bisexual men to donate blood.
“The Red Cross recognizes the hurt this policy has caused to many in the LGBTQ+ community and believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation,” wrote the America Red Cross. “We are committed to working with partners toward achieving this goal.”