Rules on blood donation set to change

Date published: 29 April 2020

Changes to rules on blood donation will maintain the safety of the blood supply while allowing more people to donate.

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced changes to blood donation deferral rules that will bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK where the changes were implemented in November 2017.

The decision follows consideration of the expert advice provided by the advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) in their Donor Selection Criteria Report published in July 2017.

Announcing his decision to change to a three-month deferral, Minister Swann said: “Any one of us may require a blood transfusion in the future and we need to be confident that the blood we receive is safe. As Minister for Health it is of utmost importance to me that we maintain the safety of blood and I’m confident that the new policy that I am announcing today will do that, while allowing more people to donate. My decision is based solely on the evidence regarding the safety of donated blood.

“Current blood donation rules prevent people who engage in some sexual behaviours from giving blood for a 12-month period. Having considered the expert advice and evidence provided by the committee for the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs the deferral period for these people will now be reduced to 3 months.”

The Minister went on to stress the importance of donors’ compliance with the deferral rules: “The safety of donated blood depends on two things: donor selection and the testing of blood. Every blood donation is tested for HIV and a number of other organisms. Not even the most advanced tests are 100% reliable, so it is vitally important for every donor to comply with any deferral rules that apply to them. 

“I have instructed the NI Blood Transfusion Service accordingly. To allow adequate preparation time the new policy will come into effect on 1 June 2020.” 

Notes to editors: 

  1. A lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have had sex with men (MSM) was introduced in the UK and many other countries in the 1980s in response to the emergence of AIDS. 
  2. In May 2011 the UK expert group on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) concluded that the evidence no longer supported a lifetime ban on blood donation by MSM, and in September 2011 the Health Ministers in England, Scotland and Wales adopted a one-year deferral for MSM. The new policy was introduced in November 2011. In Northern Ireland the lifetime ban on blood donation by MSM remained in place until September 2016.
  3. Regarding the safety of donated blood for the recipients, surveillance data from England, Scotland and Wales published in October 2015 confirmed that donated blood was safer four years after the one-year deferral was introduced that it was before the change in policy.
  4. In June 2016 the Health Minister at the time, Michelle O’Neill announced the decision that Northern Ireland would lift the lifetime ban on the donation of blood by men who have had sex with men, and would adopt a one-year deferral.  This policy change had the full support of the Northern Ireland Executive and came into effect on 1 September 2016.
  5. In June 2017 the committee for the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organ Donation (SaBTO) published the Donor Selection Criteria Report, which sets out a range of recommendations including some related to high risk behaviours. The purpose of the recommendations is to allow more people to donate blood without affecting the safety of the blood supply.
  6. These changes were agreed by the Health Minsters in England, Scotland and Wales. They came into force in the rest of the UK in November 2017.
  7. Health Minister Robin Swann considered these SaBTO recommendations in February 2020, shortly after becoming Minister of Health, and decided then to adopt the recommendations. This was a routine policy decision taken while the Department of Health was conducting business as usual. 
  8. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email: Out of hours please contact the Duty Press Office on 028 9037 8110.
  9. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt

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