Men who have sex with men

Men who last had sexual contact with another man more than 12 months ago are able to give blood if they meet the other blood donor selection criteria.

Please note that this will be changing in early 2018. Until then the current rules will continue to apply. To find out more visit our news statement.

Ensuring blood supplies are safe

Anyone can acquire a blood-borne virus or a sexually transmitted disease, but some people have an increased risk of exposure.

They may not be able to give blood at all, or for a certain period of time.

This keeps the blood supply safe and reduces the risk of transmitting an infection to a person receiving blood.

Statistically, men who have sex with men have a higher risk of acquiring blood-borne diseases, infections and viruses.

Using protection like a condom can reduce this risk, but it doesn’t eliminate it. See information on this in the Public Health England Annual Report.

That is why we can’t collect blood from men who have had oral or anal sex with men, with or without protection, in the last 12 months.

This isn’t meant to be discriminatory. It’s not based on anyone’s sexual history or sexuality. It reflects statistical risks for the sexual behaviour that increases the risk of virus transmission.

There are many reasons why someone may not be able to donate, see these in the health and travel sections.

This makes sure blood supplies provided to hospitals are safe and free from viruses and infections.

We appreciate that it can be disappointing if you want to give blood but don’t meet the donor selection criteria.

Decisions about who can give blood

We are responsible for safely collecting blood and providing safe supplies to hospitals.

We are not responsible for making the decisions or setting the criteria about who can give blood.

The Department of Health decides who can or can’t give blood based on independent advice from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

We follow the decisions they make, to ensure blood transfusions are safe for patients.

Changes to decisions about who can give blood

Before 2011 men who had sex with men were permanently excluded from giving blood.

This changed to a 12 month exclusion in 2011, following a review of the statistical risks by SaBTO.

Major HIV charities including the Terrence Higgins Trust supported this change.

There are campaigns that support the demand for the current 12 month exclusion that applies to men who have sex with men to be reviewed.

SaBTO set up a working group in April 2016 to review the current donor acceptance criteria and look at any available new evidence.

In June 2017, SaBTO completed their review of the latest available medical and scientific research and other evidence in relation to the donor selection criteria.

The Government has announced changes to the rules related to specific activities. These changes mean that the rules are consistent for all groups that are deferred due to sexual behaviours and will offer more people the chance to give blood.

Subject to meeting the other donation rules, men who have had specific sexual activity with another man; commercial sex workers and people who have sex with partners in groups known to have a high risk of having an infection that could be passed on during sex (high risk partners) will be able to donate after three months have passed since that sexual activity.

These changes will be introduced in early 2018, with the exact date to be confirmed. To find out more visit our news statement.

Why a 12 months deferral?

We carry out many tests on blood to check it’s safe to give to patients.

There is a small possibility the tests we carry out are not able to pick up recently acquired infections.

If someone was to donate blood during this time, known as a window period, it would be possible to transmit an infection.

This includes infections like hepatitis B virus (HBV). It can take up to 12 months for an HBV infection to clear.

As men who have sex with men in the UK continue to be at a statistically higher risk of contracting blood-borne viruses such as HBV, the deferral time is 12 months.

We know this can be disappointing if you wish to give blood. But, it is extremely important that you respect and adhere to this and all other donor selection criteria so we continue to maintain a safe blood supply.  

The tests that we carry out on blood

Every blood donation is tested for infections including:

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
  • Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV)
  • Syphilis

Additional tests may be carried out on blood from donors who are at increased risk of certain infections, for example due to travel or residence in certain countries.