Introduction of additional blood donor testing

Department of Health and Social Care written statement – made at on 23 May 2022.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I would like to inform the House that the Government has accepted the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) and will be introducing additional testing to detect hepatitis B in donated blood from 31 May 2022. The Scottish Government, Welsh Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive have also accepted the advice of SaBTO.

The safety of people donating and people receiving blood and blood products is the Government’s priority. We have robust safeguards in place that protect both donors and those receiving this potentially lifesaving intervention, which includes testing all donations for possible infections prior to use in transfusion.

In 2019, SaBTO established the Occult Hepatitis B Infection (OBI) working group to consider options for further improving pre-donation testing for hepatitis B. The group considered different testing options to identify those donors that have undetectable levels of the surface antibody to hepatitis B, but do have hepatitis B DNA and a core antibody to hepatitis B. These donors are known as occult donors and have been shown to be able to transmit hepatitis B to blood donor recipients. The OBI working group recommended the introduction of core antibody testing, alongside the current testing, for all current donors once, and then all new and returning donors. SaBTO reviewed the findings of the working group and agreed with the recommendations.

The Government has reviewed the evidence compiled by the OBI working group together with SaBTO’s advice and has accepted the recommendation. The introduction of this new form of testing further improves the rigorous processes we have in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of donors and the safe and consistent supply of blood for patients.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working with NHS Blood and Transplant to implement this change and the overall impact of the changes will be reviewed in twelve months by SaBTO and the Government.