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MSM deferral period was not endorsed by IBTS medical committee

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) introduced a one-year deferral period for blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) despite its medical advisory committee (MAC) recommending the establishment of an expert advisory group to deliberate on the deferral duration. 

While the MAC found that the lifetime ban on donations from MSM was “disproportionate”, it could not reach a consensus on what constituted a safe deferral period for MSM donors, according to correspondence sent to the IBTS board in February 2019 by medical consultants who participated in the decision-making process.

The consultants wrote to the IBTS board about an external review of board effectiveness. This review contained some criticisms of the MAC by board members, including a “sense of frustration with the MSM decision-making process”. 

The MAC, which met to discuss the MSM donation issue in June 2016, included a number of “highly experienced” consultants, while external experts also presented data, according to the consultants’ letter.

Where a committee of such seniority and experience had difficulty reaching consensus on the deferral period, this could not be termed a “failure”, they stated. 

The letter noted that the IBTS board did not accept the MAC’s recommendation on establishing an expert group, “instead deciding to adopt a one-year deferral period for MSM donors, as recommended by the then medical director.

“In an attempt to increase the safety margins of the one-year deferral, a decision was also taken by the board to defer all donors who had an STI in the preceding five years. The data underpinning this was unclear and the decision represented a uniquely restrictive deferral by international standards; this was subsequently rescinded.” 

The IBTS introduced the one-year deferral for MSM in January 2017. According to its website, international experience had shown that this deferral was “as effective as a lifetime deferral from the point of view of protecting the blood supply against the risk of HIV transmission”.

NHS Blood and Transplant introduced a three-month deferral period in late 2017, having adopted 12-month deferral in 2011.  

An IBTS spokesperson said its board did not believe an expert advisory panel would provide “any additional value to the decision-making process” above what was already available, following the holding of an international colloquium on the matter and a subsequent report.