Poots appeals ruling critical of ban on gay blood donors

Belfast judge last year branded Poots stance ‘irrational’ and found he breached Stormont code

Northern Ireland Minister for Health Edwin Poots has kept a lifetime deferral in operation in Northern Ireland on gay men giving blood, citing “blood safety” issues. Photograph: PA

Northern Ireland Minister for Health Edwin Poots has kept a lifetime deferral in operation in Northern Ireland on gay men giving blood, citing “blood safety” issues. Photograph: PA

Fri, Jan 3, 2014, 17:59

British health secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Stormont counterpart Edwin Poots are appealing against a legal ruling that criticised a controversial ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland.

Last year a High Court judge in Belfast branded Mr Poots’s stance as “irrational” and found he breached Stormont’s ministerial code by not consulting on the policy with fellow ministers in the devolved power-sharing coalition.

In the ruling on the judicial review case taken by an anonymous gay man, Mr Justice Treacy also said the issue should not have been dealt with by Stormont in the first place, insisting it was a reserved matter and the responsibility of the UK health secretary.

The ban on gay men donating was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in 2011 and replaced with rules that allow them to give blood after a one-year deferral - ie 12 months since their last sexual encounter with another man.

But Mr Poots has kept the lifetime deferral in operation in Northern Ireland, citing “blood safety” issues. It remains in place despite the judicial review finding.

While Mr Poots is appealing against the entirety of Justice Treacy’s ruling in the case, which is known as JR 65, Mr Hunt is only appealing against the finding that responsibility for blood donation policy was a reserved matter.

Justice Treacy said it was “irrational” that Mr Poots retained the ban in Northern Ireland when the region was still able to accept blood supplies from the rest of the UK, where the prohibition had been lifted.

A spokeswoman from Mr Poots’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) issued a statement on his and Mr Hunt’s behalf.

“Secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, and the local DHSSPS have each lodged appeals to JR 65 on blood donor deferral,” she said.

“The decision in JR 65 potentially has wide-reaching consequences beyond the immediate subject matter of the case, and DHSSPS has strong legal advice recommending an appeal, and accordingly it is appropriate that those arguments should be presented to the Court of Appeal.

“It would not be appropriate for the department to comment further when an appeal to the court is pending.”

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