How FreedomToDonate and UNILAD challenged the government on its blood donation policies and won

4 years ago

FreedomToDonate & UNILAD this week celebrated the Government’s announcement accepting their calls for an individualised risk-based policy, the most forward-thinking policy for gay and bi men in the world.

Until now, gay and bisexual men have not been allowed to donate unless they’ve abstained from sex for 3 months. All gay and bi men were, prior to today’s announcement, treated as too risky to donate, missing out on the potential of thousands of safe donors. That will change as all donors, regardless of sex or sexuality, will soon be able to donate unless they have had anal sex with a new or more than one person in the previous 3 months.

 This news comes after years of campaigning, including a far reach partnership that took place at the end of 2019. UNILAD, part of LADbible Group, partnered with pressure group FreedomToDonate, creative agency, ELVIS, and Global Communications agency, Hotwire, to launch the #BloodwithoutBias campaign, which the opening of The Illegal Blood Bank – the world’s first blood donation clinic for gay and bisexual men.

The campaign’s central goal was to raise awareness, put pressure on the government to change their ‘out-dated’ legislation, and demonstrate how alternative methods can help identify new, safe donors to meet the NHS’ 135,000 yearly new donor target.

‘Since working with UNILAD on this campaign, we were able to help show that individual assessments could work, that millions of lives could be saved, and we could change perceptions of gay and bisexual men who want to safely donate blood. We’re proud to be able to say that this campaign helped to contribute towards the change in legislation, which the government announced today.’ said Ethan Spibey, FreedomToDonate.

Maya Orr, Head of Marketing & Comms, LADbible Group, said: ‘We’re so proud of the part played by UNILAD and its audience in this drive for equality. Our audience not only engaged with and shared content resulting in nearly a million video views but over 61 thousand people signed our petition and pledged over 5000 pints of blood to help keep piling on the pressure to rectify this bias towards gay and bisexual men. Furthermore, the campaign caught the attention and drove support within the media industry itself, winning 20 awards across the year, ensuring that this outdated policy was not forgotten. This is a huge moment for the the UK in ensuring more people than ever can be treated fairly when looking to donate blood, and ultimately meaning more lives can be saved.’

The blood bank gave MSM men the opportunity to donate their blood, some for the first time in their lives. The blood bank used FreedomToDonate’s proposed ‘individualised risk assessment’ questionnaire that screened donors based on their individual sexual behaviour and successfully identified eligible donors, irrespective of their sexuality.

Our narrative, that a pool of potentially perfectly healthy blood is going to waste, formed the crux of the media story and promoted the human empathy side to the issue. Hotwire targeted broadcast, national, lifestyle, LGBTQ+ and trade press to widen the campaign’s reach and saw the likes of BBC London News, ITV News London and HuffPost attend the Illegal blood Bank and broadcast in depth segments across the weekend.

In the one day the Illegal Blood Bank was open, UNILAD collected enough blood to save 78 lives. 100% of the blood donated, was tested to the same standards as blood donated via the NHS and was deemed perfectly safe to use. Before the blood was disposed of, we knew we had to get it in front of the eyes of the public. Creative agency ELVIS installed Ad shells,  which displayed the real blood bags, within in high footfall locations including outside Parliament, NHS Hospitals, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. They helped to open people’s eyes to the potential pool of blood donors available that could contribute to the NHS’s target and help save lives.


The ultimate metric of success for #BloodwithoutBias and FreedomtoDonate’s years of campaigning was achieved today, 14 December 2020, when the government announced the acceptance for an individualised risk-based policy.  At the time of the campaign in December 2019, it prompted a response from the NHS who issued an official statement stating it was testing Individualised risk assessments and committed to publishing the outcome in 2020.

The campaign also saw over 5000 MSM men pledged to donate a virtual pint and 250 MSM men signed up to attend The Illegal Blood Bank and donate blood.

The campaign achieved over 10 million impressions online, over 900,000 video views on UNILAD and changed people’s minds about blood donation policy. 62% of those who saw our campaign content saying they were ‘extremely in favour’ of changing the policy. In addition, more than 60,000 people have signed the petition to show they support to the proposed change in policy. The campaign has since won a total of 20 industry awards; recognising the role #Bloodwithoutbias has played in challenging the outdated legislation around MSM donors.

With the Government’s approval of individualised risk assessment, blood donations from MSM men will increase much-needed blood donations and hopefully save lives.