We rely on our generous blood donors in Scotland to provide blood components for Scottish hospitals. This allows hospitals to provide life-saving blood transfusions to patients who need them. We work in partnership with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) to ensure the safety of donated blood. SNBTS is part of NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) and supplies high quality blood, tissues and cells across Scotland.
Blood safety and blood donor selection
While SNBTS is keen to encourage more people to donate blood if they are able to, many people are unable to donate blood for a wide range of reasons. We recognise that this can be frustrating for those who want to donate, but donor selection criteria are based on expert advice and are strictly managed. This is both to protect the health of donors and as part of the extensive steps taken to help ensure the safety of the blood that is provided to patients.
Ensuring the safety of donated blood is a priority. As well as having high regulatory standards in place (set out in the Blood Safety and Quality Regulations 2005, as amended), we follow advice from the independent UK Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) on the most appropriate measures to ensure the safety of blood, cells, tissues and organs for transfusion and transplantation.
Deferral and risk assessment
Since 2017, the deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) has been three months in Scotland, England and Wales. On 14 June 2021, SNBTS made changes to the questions blood donors are asked which will enable more men who have sex with men (MSM) and people whose partners have previously lived in sub-Saharan Africa to donate.
These changes mean men are no longer automatically barred from giving blood if they have had sex with another man in the last three months. Instead, everyone will be given a more individual risk assessment, which will involve all potential donors being asked a few additional questions about their sexual behaviours.
Current and new donors can find more information on the SNBTS website.
Plasma for production of medicines
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has advised Ministers that, following its detailed review in 2020, the Commission on Human Medicines has recommended that UK plasma can be used for production of immunoglobulin medicines as they are satisfied that the risk of transmission of variant CJD (vCJD) via immunoglobulins manufactured from UK plasma is now negligible.
For this reason, Ministers across the UK have agreed to lift the ban on using UK plasma for fractionation, which was introduced in 1998 as a vCJD risk mitigation measure. All other existing vCJD risk mitigation measures will remain in place.
This means plasma from donations given in the UK will now be able to be used to produce medicinal immunoglobulin products to treat patients in Scotland and the rest of the UK. This should improve the security of supplies of these medicines in future.
We are working closely with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service to review options for the collection and use of plasma from donors in Scotland in future.